Editorial: Truly fair districts

Editorial | Gainesville Sun | 02/07/2013

If you can't win fair and square, change the rules.

That seems to be the motto in Republican-led efforts to change election laws, such as limiting early voting and altering the way that states award Electoral College votes.

Another example is what a recent New York Times story called "The Great Gerrymander of 2012." The creative drawing of congressional districts meant that Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives in 2012, yet the GOP won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin.

Florida is a prime example of this phenomenon, as is often the case with underhanded efforts to influence election results.

President Barack Obama carried the state and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans here. Yet Republicans hold a 17-10 advantage in the state's congressional delegation, a 26-14 advantage in the state Senate and a 76-14 advantage in the state House.

State legislative leaders say that the 2012 redistricting process was transparent and resulted in maps designed without regard to party interests. But emails obtained by The Associated Press show that party officials worked with political consultants in drawing districts.

The emails show that consultants routinely traded information about redistricting and how it would affect Republican incumbents, the AP reported this week. This all happened after state voters approved the "Fair Districts" constitutional amendments meant to remove partisanship from the creation of maps.

It should be noted that the state Supreme Court and U.S. Justice Department approved Florida's maps. Democrats also bear responsibility for fielding lackluster candidates in the state, as shown by the GOP's total control of the Florida Cabinet.

Democratic incumbents have also used the gerrymandering system to their advantage, including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. Brown's district stretches from Jacksonville to east Gainesville to Orlando.

One might argue that districts such as hers link minority communities and provide the benefit of increasing minority representation in Congress. But residents of eastern and western Gainesville have shared interests in things like bringing transportation dollars to the community, which would perhaps be better served by having a single representative for the whole area.

Western Gainesville is instead part of a district that also includes predominantly rural areas of North Florida, helping tea party favorite Ted Yoho win the district.

So what's the solution? California took redistricting out of lawmakers' hands. It created a commission to draw boundaries that includes five Democrats, five Republicans and four members from neither party.

A redistricting commission isn't a perfect fix, but it's a step in the right direction. It's a better idea that letting the rules be decided by the players in the game.

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