Every ten years, after the census, the Florida Legislature redraws the boundaries of our Congressional, state house and state senate districts. This is called redistricting and it was originally intended to be sure that districts are equal in population – to make sure that every voter counts equally. But politicians had their own ideas about redistricting.
How did the politicians cheat the voters?
In the past, self-interested politicians hijacked the process by rigging districts for their own political gain. They made deals to draw favorable districts for their allies and they drew their political adversaries out of office. Politicians used sophisticated computers, voter registration data and past election returns to predict how particular voters would vote in the future. Then they chose which voters were most likely to vote for them and their party and placed just enough of those voters into “safe” districts – ones they were sure they could win. Those in charge also packed large numbers of unfavorable voters in into a few districts to minimize the opposition’s chances. They rigged districts to keep themselves in power.
This is called partisan political gerrymandering. It is like allowing the fox to guard the henhouse or getting to choose your own cards in a poker game! Politicians choose their voters so voters do not have a fair chance to choose their representatives. Each district is rigged to accomplish a particular political result. Districts are set up to be either Democratic or Republican and opposing party candidates or Independents have no chance. Voters are robbed of their choice in selecting their representatives because the elections are pre-determined before they even start.
Floridians voted overwhelmingly to stop gerrymandering!
In November 2010, voters overwhelmingly sent a message to Florida politicians. The FairDistricts Amendments passed with 63% of the vote! These amendments put rules in the Florida Constitution to stop politicians from manipulating districts to favor themselves. While carefully protecting the rights of minority voters, the constitution now prohibits political favoritism, requires that districts be compact, contiguous, equal in population and follow city or county lines where feasible.
So, did Legislators follow the new rules when they redistricted in 2012?
The Tallahassee politicians opposed the FairDistricts Amendments at the ballot box and and after they passed, legislative leaders were determined not to follow them. They didn’t want to give up their previous ability to use districting as their own job protection plan. Once they lost at the polls, they showed blatant disrespect for the will of the voters and the constitution they had sworn to uphold. The Speaker of the House sued in court to try to get rid of the amendments. The Governor abused his power by taking steps to delay implementation.
But when they started to draw the new districts, they announced that they would follow the new rules and engage in the most “open, interactive, transparent redistricting process ever!” In reality they were engaged in one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated on Florida voters!
After over 4 years of lawsuits, the scam was uncovered and the Legislature’s (Congressional and Senate) maps were invalidated and replaced with maps drawn by the FairDistricts Coalition.
While Legislative leaders were proclaiming how closely they were following the new amendments, in fact they were collaborating with political operatives in the back rooms of Republican Party Headquarters in Tallahassee and Washington to draw favorable districts for their party and incumbents. Not only did they draw the illegally biased and unconstitutional maps, but they also developed a deceptive process to sneak the maps into the legislature’s computers to make it look as if staff had drawn them based on input from everyday citizens.
They set up a public portal – supposedly so citizens could provide input into the mapping. But they used the portal as a sort of secret underground tunnel to allow the partisan maps to be submitted without the public knowing that they had actually been drawn by political operatives. They used fake names and even submitted some maps under names of real people who knew nothing about the scam and had not given permission for their names to be used. This was done with the full knowledge of legislative leaders who then publicly tried to justify the maps by saying that members of the public drew them!
After years of litigation, the court threw out the Congressional map saying that this conspiracy had been intended to “make a mockery” of the FairDistricts Amendments. Soon afterwards, the Florida Senate leaders actually confessed in open court that the Senate map was also illegally drawn and should not be used in future elections. The Legislature could not agree on legally drawn maps so the courts replaced the unconstitutional maps with maps that complied with the FairDistricts Amendments and were drawn by the FairDistricts Coalition. Those maps were in use from 2016 – 2020.
How did the new, fairly drawn maps change Florida?
The political playing field was significantly leveled and many more districts became competitive. The new competition inspired representatives to moderate their positions. Examples include: (1) One Republican South Florida Congressman found his new district to be three points more Democratic. He had previously denied the existence of climate change but when his district became newly competitive, he totally reversed his position. (2) A Republican South Florida Congresswoman whose district went from “lean R” to “lean D” changed her position on minimum wage from “we don’t need one” to “the minimum wage should be increased to $15.00”. (3) A Republican state senator who used to be in a safe district found himself in a swing district and joined his colleague in that announcement. Due to district changes in 2016 the Senator faced a challenger who came very close. (4) That same Senator, who used to have a 100% rating from the NRA, single handedly stopped all NRA legislation in the 2017 session. (5) A Republican Congresswoman who has consistently voted to repeal Obama Care then voted against the repeal. Could it be because her district was no longer a sure Republican district? (6) Finally, there was the case of the Republican Senator whose district became very competitive under the 2016 maps. He changed the name of his foundation from “Foundation for Conservative Values” to “Foundation for Human Values.” Clearly, as district margins tightened, candidates were forced to moderate on issues and how they presented themselves in order to appeal to the voters in the middle of the political spectrum rather than the extremes of their party.