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Martin County Democrats

Our politicians design districts to protect their seats and perpetuate their power. They pick their voters, rather than voters choosing them. They rig districts so they can't lose.

We have the chance to stop this unfair power grab! We can make the Legislature follow fairness standards in Congressional and Legislative redistricting.

How do we stop legislators from rigging their districts?

The Florida Constitution can be amended to make the legislature follow fairness standards in redistricting.

Over 1.6 million voters need to sign petitions.

FairDistrictsFlorida.org aims to bring fairness to redistricting and give voters a real voice in choosing their representatives.

What is the purpose of redistricting?

Every ten years, after the census, the boundaries of our congressional, state house and state senate districts are redrawn. This was originally intended to be sure that districts are roughly equal in population -- to make sure that every vote counts equally. But the process has been hijacked by self-interested politicians.

Who makes the districting decisions?

The Florida Legislature. When the legislature passes a congressional or legislative redistricting plan, it's just like other legislation. All representatives and senators vote on the plan. The party that controls the legislature controls redistricting. The plan that gets the majority vote becomes the legislature's plan. No matter which party has control of the legislature, that party's main goal is to protect its majority and the seats of its incumbents. This is called partisan political gerrymandering. It is like allowing the fox to guard the henhouse!

How do they Gerrymander districts?

Florida's present system permits politicians to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives. Legislators use sophisticated computers, voter registration data and past election returns to predict how particular voters will vote in the future. Then they choose which voters are most likely to vote for them and their party and place just enough of those voters in "safe" districts -- ones they are sure they can win. Those in charge also pack large numbers of unfavorable voters in into a few districts so the unfriendly voters will have a chance to win in fewer districts.

Districts are bizarrely shaped. There is no effort to make sure that cities and counties are kept together in districts. That is why communities are often split among several representatives and districts often cover multiple counties and communities. This manipulation of the process damages the very spirit of a fair, democratic election. Consultant David Winston, who drew districts in the last redistricting, says, "As a mapmaker, I can have more of an impact on an election than a campaign, ... than a candidate, ... than the voters. ...Something is out of whack!"

I want to help stop the unfair political gerrymandering!

Another result is that there are rarely serious challenges to incumbents. After all, their districts are specially designed for them! With virtually certain seats, legislators have no incentive to be responsive to their constituents and they see no reason to compromise for the public good.

What do we need to do to stop the legislators from drawing district lines for their own political gain?

Now our constitution contains no standards to prevent politicians from putting partisan politics ahead of Florida voters. Presently, the law only requires that districts be roughly equal in population and that they consist of contiguous territory. That means that all parts of the district must touch. But the legislators even stretch that rule to the max. A connecting strip a yard wide and miles long satisfies that requirement. An example is Senate District 27 which is considered "contiguous". Sometimes contiguity is accomplished by crossing bodies of water -- like Congressional District 11 which covers parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties.

FairDistrictsFlorida.org proposes to establish clear fairness standards that will end the self-interested gerrymandering. The standards will be in the constitution and the legislators will really have to follow them.

How will the new rules make a difference?

The new rules or standards proposed by FairDistrictsFlorida.org will prohibit drawing districts to favor an incumbent or a party. While ensuring that racial and language minority voters have the equal opportunity to participate in the political process, the standards will require that districts be compact and community based. Communities -- like Seminole County -- will not be divided among multiple representatives.

What will happen if we do not establish standards?

Legislators will continue to perpetuate their own power through political gerrymandering. So while Florida is a politically balanced state, its Congressional and legislative representation will not be! Presently Democrats and Republicans are registered to vote in Florida in roughly equal numbers with independents making up 20% of the voters. Yet one major party holds almost two-thirds of the Congressional and legislative seats. There are no independents in the Florida Legislature or in our Congressional delegation. This is because the party that controlled both houses of the legislature at the last redistricting in 2001, drew the boundaries to create "safe" "can't lose" districts. Whichever party was in charge would have done the same thing. Whichever party controls the legislature in the 2011 redistricting, the political playing field will remain unbalanced -- unless we change the rules to make it unconstitutional for them to conduct business as usual.

How can we make the legislators follow the standards?

The procedure for redistricting is set forth in the Florida Constitution. In order to stop the legislators from this self interested power grab, we must amend the constitution. The first step is to collect signatures on 1.6 million petitions so that the voters will have an opportunity to vote. We need your help in signing the petitions and in getting your friends, neighbors and colleagues to sign too!

Click here to sign the petitions
Click here to download the petitions

Make Politicians Accountable

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

In Florida, as in most other states, politicians pick their voters.

That's the reverse of what it should be, and last week the Florida Supreme Court gave voters a chance to fix it.

The court approved for the 2010 ballot - if backers get enough petition signatures - two constitutional amendments that would change how Florida draws congressional and legislative districts. The timing is right, since 2010 is the next census year. In 2011, using those population numbers, the Legislature will reset boundaries for the 40 state Senate seats, 120 state House seats and what probably will be 26 or 27 congressional seats, up from 25.

When one party controls both chambers of a legislature, that party can use the age-old tactic of gerrymandering to enhance the influence of its voters and reduce the influence of the opposition. Computer technology has made gerrymandering not just a power grab but a science. Powerful legislators can draw new congressional seats for themselves. In 2001, then-House Speaker Tom Feeney carved out a district northwest of Orlando and won it the next year. Former state Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart did the same for himself in Miami.

But the amendments would make it illegal for the Legislature to draw lines with the "intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent." In general, districts would have to be "contiguous"; in Florida House District 78, Lake Okeechobee connects Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. Districts would have to be "compact," not stretched over seven counties like some congressional districts.

Ideally, politicians would have no role in choosing their voters. In some states, special, bipartisan commissions do the work. But in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court rejected an amendment to create such a commission because it would have violated the single-subject rule for petition-drive amendments. Florida would have had new redistricting standards and a new body to enforce them. These amendments, pushed by the group FairDistrictsFlorida.org, only set new standards for the Legislature.

Predictably, the Legislature argued against the amendments. It was Republicans now, but it would have been Democrats 20 years ago, when they ran Tallahassee. The Legislature argued that under this system the courts would wind up deciding the districts, thus illegally taking power from the Legislature.

In fact, that argument makes the case for the amendments. The Legislature acknowledged that it draws lines based primarily on politics. The safer the district, the more extreme the politics.

Fairer districts will make for better politics, and better government.