Miami New Times | 07/10/2015

Have you ever wondered how Florida — despite having more Democratic voters than Republicans, sending Obama to the White House in the past two presidential cycles, and seeing razor-close gubernatorial elections — has somehow sent 17 Republicans and only ten Democrats to the House? It just doesn't make sense, does it? Well, gerrymandering has a lot to do with it.

Today, the Florida Supreme Court sent down a ruling deeming eight of Florida's 27 congressional districts are drawn unconstitutionally. Three of those are right here in Miami-Dade and are held by Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Carlos Curbelo. In a 5-2 ruling, the court ordered the districts to be redrawn in time for the 2016 election cycle.

Congressional districts (along with state legislative districts) are drawn up by the state legislature every ten years, and it just so happens districts tend to favor the party in charge at the time. What has happened is that seats held by Democrats tend have a large concentration of Democratic voters, whereas seats held by Republicans tend to have smaller but solid Republican voter advantages.

In 2010, Florida voters had about enough of the gerrymandering and approved a constitutional amendment calling for fair districts. Under the new amendment, districts were supposed to be drawn without favor to incumbents or a specific political party and were supposed to take local city and county borders into account.

A coalition of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters, claimed the current districts were drawn with political motivation. The justices agreed.

"The trial court’s factual findings and ultimate determination [is] that the redistricting process and resulting map were 'taint[ed]' by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the majority opinion.

The justices also chastised the Republican-led legislature for holding meetings about the redistricting in secret and allowing political operatives to influence the decisions.

"The Legislature itself proclaimed that it would conduct the most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state, and then made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map, outside the purview of public scrutiny."

The eight districts must now be redrawn, and the 14 districts that border them could also be affected.

The court also handed down rules for carrying out further redistricting, including that all meetings must be open to the public and those that aren't must be recorded.

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