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Election Primer: Amendments 5 and 6 Pit Power Against Voters in Redistricting

| October 13, 2010

flagler county old map 1920 1920s

Lack of representation is an old story for Flagler County.

Redistricting, which happens every 10 years, is the redrawing of political boundaries—congressional, state house and senate, school board districts, and so on. It’s done following the decennial census, to keep up with population trends.

In every democracy in the world, redistricting is the job of independent commissions. Not in Florida.

Florida is among 45 states where the state Legislature takes on redistricting. In those 45 states, a few of which have advisory commissions, whoever controls the Legislature controls the outcome, which is to say that politicians in power get to choose their own voters. In Florida, when Democrats were in charge in the last century, they drew boundaries to favor them and diminish Republicans’ chances of a take-over as much as they could. It worked for decades. Since Republicans took over the Florida Senate in 1992 and the Florida House in 1996, they were able to control redistricting in 2001, much to their advantage. They’ll do it again next year.

Two proposed constitutional amendments would change that, to a degree: Amendments 5 and 6. The initiatives are identical but for one difference. Amendment 5 applies to the redistricting of state legislative boundaries. Amendment 6 applies to congressional district boundaries.

Neither initiative would create an independent commission. Rather, the initiatives call for districts to be “contiguous” and “compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”

Whoever controls the Legislature would still control the process. Even if the initiatives pass—they’ll need 60 percent of the vote to do so—redistricting in Florida would remain a politicized process. It would merely be somewhat less politicized, and possibly diminish the staying power of incumbents as well as the influence of the party in power, when it comes to redistricting. For example, computer programs legislators use now to pinpoint and separate heavily Democratic neighborhoods from heavily Republican one would no longer be allowed when redistricting.

The lack of precision in the amendments may make litigation more likely, although when Democrats redistricted in the early 1990s, the result ended up in court, and when Republicans did so in 2001, they ended up in court as well. Litigation following redistricting is a norm when legislatures are involved instead of independent commissions.

The initiatives have not created entirely predictable camps favoring and opposing them, although generally speaking, conservatives and incumbents oppose the amendments, liberals favor them. A few black and Hispanic lawmakers in Tallahassee worry redistricting under the proposed rules would hurt their chances of keeping their seats in six congressional districts where they have a majority, or something close to one. The districts include those of Democrats Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings and Kendrick Meek, and Republicans Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The initiatives are supported by Fair Districts Florida, a non-profit, non-partisan organization led by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, an independent, former Senator and Governor Bob Graham a Democrat, former Attorney General Janet Reno, a Democrat, former State Senator Daryl Jones a Democrat, former Comptroller Bob Milligan, a Republican,  former Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nat Reed, a Republican, and former Judge Thom Rumberger, a Republican. Their supporters include the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida School Board Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Some 1.7 million Floridians signed petitions to put the initiatives on the ballot.

Brown and Mario Diaz-Balart are openly against the initiatives, as are Florida’s business lobbies and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. They have coalesced around an organization called protectyourvote.com, led by former Secretary of State Kurt Browning. Brown is worried because a non-majority-black district would make her re-election more difficult—a distinctly self-serving rather than principled opposition to the amendments.

Some black or Hispanic state legislators are also worried, for the same reason. In the state Legislature, 24 House seats and six Senate seats are majority black or Hispanic. But looking beyond incumbents—whose anxiety always spikes at redistricting time regardless—popular support for redistricting is more pronounced because of popular discontent with incumbents.

Florida tried to reform its redistricting system in 1978, 1993 and 1998, and failed every time. California voters will also be voting in a redistricting amendment opf their own in November, though in California the ballot initiative would create an independent commission.

The ballot language:

AMENDMENT 5

STANDARDS FOR LEGISLATURE TO FOLLOW IN LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING

BALLOT SUMMARY: Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Full text:

In establishing Legislative district boundaries:
(1) No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.
(2) Unless compliance with the standards in this subsection conflicts with the standards in subsection (1) or with federal law, districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.
(3) The order in which the standards within sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section are set forth shall not be read to establish any priority of one standard over the other within that subsection.

AMENDMENT 6

STANDARDS FOR LEGISLATURE TO FOLLOW IN CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING

BALLOT SUMMARY: Congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Full text:

In establishing Congressional district boundaries:
(1) No apportionment plan or individual district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.
(2) Unless compliance with the standards in this subsection conflicts with the standards in subsection (1) or with federal law, districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.
(3) The order in which the standards within sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section are set forth shall not be read to establish any priority of one standard over the other within that subsection.

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1 Response for “Election Primer: Amendments 5 and 6 Pit Power Against Voters in Redistricting”

  1. Carmine Pantuso says:

    Shame on the leaders of the Flagler Tea Party for urging Tea Party members not suppport Amendements 4, 5 & 6 which would take the power away from the politicians and give it back to the people. Isn’t this what the Tea Party is suppose to be about!

    A guy named Ross Perot use to say follow money and this is what these Amendments are about money, power, control and land use.

    We know first hand the history of politicians and there croanies and greedy developers in Flagler County who catered to developers who come waving money and making promises.

    Why do you think the City of Palm Coast wants to incorporate so much land? So they can make money through impact fees and property taxes by re-zoning land and catering to the developers and large landowners.

    What about the doom and gloom painted by those who say Amendment 4 will bring high taxes, lawsuits, job losses This is what you call “Fear Mongering” unfounded and untrue and was based on a study done by the Washington Economics group.

    Here is what Dr. Mark Soskin and Dr. Bradley Braun, economics professors at the University of Central Florida, had to say about the study, they concluded that the projected impacts were not valid. “We definitively conclude without reservation that none of the WEG Report impact forecasts contain any useful information, and their findings should be entirely disregarded as irredeemably flawed,” they said. In their review, both professors found that the study’s conclusion about job losses lacked concrete evidence connecting Amendment 4 with the job losses. In conclusion, Soskin and Braun said that the report “lacks the quantitative data required to generate any impact estimates. The direct impact data is invented in a classic “garbage in, garbage-out” exercise of pseudo-science. In closing VOTE YES ON AMENDMENTS 4,5, & 6 I TRUST THE PEOPLE OVER THE POLITICIANS AY DAY!

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