Fair redistricting will reshape politics

January 17, 2010

One of the spoils for a legislative majority is the power to redraw congressional and legislative boundaries the way it wants following a national census. Florida Republicans exer­cised that authority in 2002, and like the Democrats before them, drew districts to ensure they retained power. And it worked. In 2004 not one in­cumbent lost his or her seat. Indeed, with the advantage offered by computer mapping and voter data analysis, the Republicans drew super ma­jority districts that practically guaranteed a Republican vic­tory. And to keep Democratic complaints to a minimum, they did the same for the mi­nority party, insulating Demo­cratic- leaning minorities in a few “safe” Democratic seats. They found, as opponents of the process are wont to say, their voters. Now Florida voters have a chance to take the raw politics out of the process by passing two proposed constitutional amendments headed to the ballot in November. The amendments would require legislative and congressional boundaries that favor neither party nor incumbent or com­promise “the equal opportuni­ty of racial or language minor-i­ties” to participate or elect their chosen representatives. The amendments are meant to create a fair, more compet­itive system for both parties.
They would require com­pact districts that move along defined geographic boundar­ies. You should no longer find yourself living in a district where your “local” represen­tative lives 100 miles away. No district line should bounce from one side of a street to another to take in a particular voter. A city the size of Tem­ple Terrace would no longer be represented by three mem­bers of Congress.
Moreover, removing politi­cal favoritism from the pro­cess carries more urgency today than it did in 2002.
Computer technology today provides parties with detailed information about voters and their voting habits, giving a clear strategic advantage to the party in power.
The proposed amendments would require that districts be compact and respect commu­nity boundaries. The districts should be as equal in pop­ulation as feasible and not discriminate on the basis of race or language.
Approving these standards will improve the process.
Wedges should not be driven between communities, coun­ties and voters, yet that’s what politically driven redistricting does.
Removing selfish political motives from the process is the main goal of FairDistricts-Florida.
But forces are lining up against reform and creating strange alliances. It’s ironic to see Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos, both Repub­licans and likely the next House speaker and Senate president respectively, in agreement with U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, one of the most liberal members of Congress, who argues passage of the amendments would cause a decline in minority re­presentation.
They have one thing in common: protecting their seats. The truth is, politicians don’t want a level playing field. They understand that when the deck is stacked to favor incumbents, it would be a rare event to be knocked off.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering a second challenge of the ballot lan­guage, but that’s not likely to go anywhere before a Su­preme Court that has already approved it.
Voters have good reason to see to it these initiatives make the ballot and become part of our constitution. A logical electoral map that keeps neighborhoods together could reinvigorate a healthy two­party system where voters pick their politicians rather than the other way around.

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