The answer to redistricting headache — Florida Lottery

William Mattox | Orlando Sentinel | 07/22/2015

Now that the Florida Supreme Court has slapped down the redistricting plan adopted by the Florida Legislature, it's time to get the third branch of government involved in a fair solution.

Does anyone have the phone number for the Florida Lottery?

That's right, the best way to resolve the current redistricting controversy isn't to have the Legislature adopt a single plan that guarantees a favorable outcome for certain politicians and special interests. Nor is it to have the Supreme Court perpetuate the pretense that it is somehow possible to draw a redistricting plan that does not favor anyone.

The best way to resolve the current controversy is for the Florida Lottery to randomly select a redistricting plan from among several the Legislature draws up.

Calling on the Lottery's assistance does not mean the Legislature would abandon its constitutional duty to draw district lines. It simply means the Legislature would acknowledge that there are many ways to skin a cat — and that the Fair Districts amendments to Florida's Constitution don't offer much guidance about what the Legislature's priorities ought to be.

As adopted in 2010, the Fair Districts amendments give legislators six guidelines for drawing election districts: Don't favor incumbents; don't favor any political party; don't deny equal opportunity to minorities; don't vary district population size; don't stray from existing political and geographic boundaries; and don't divide districts or fail to make them compact.

These are all important guidelines, but they aren't equally important. Nor can they all be satisfied perfectly in a single plan. Certain Florida regions have more Republicans or more Democrats or more minorities than other areas. So, every district can't be a "swing" district. And many redistricting dilemmas do not have an obvious solution.

For example, is it better to draw districts to assure minority representation or to produce an even split of Democrats and Republicans? Is it better to group coastal communities or to keep geographically diverse counties intact?

Unfortunately, the 2010 guidelines offer no criteria ranking beyond saying the first three considerations are more important than the last three. This ambiguity virtually guarantees legal challenges no matter what the Legislature does (as we have already seen). And the current tug-of-war between the Supreme Court and the Legislature is apt to continue unless an element of randomness is introduced into the process.

How, then, should the Legislature proceed? The Legislature should draw up three to nine plans — none of which would have the same combination of high-low ranking criteria. (One plan might give greatest consideration to protecting minority interests and least to preserving political boundaries, while another might give greatest consideration to not favoring incumbents and least to geographic compactness.)

Then, the Florida Lottery should be called upon to randomly select one of these plans from among the different options.

Obviously, adding an element of randomness would not ensure that the eventual outcome would please every legislator, interest group or citizen. (Not everyone wins in a lottery.) But it would give Floridians a system in which they can have confidence. And it would do so without having the Legislature abandon its constitutional duties — or having the Supreme Court pretend that it knows an unbiased way to satisfy all of the existing guidelines.

Moreover, calling on the Florida Lottery to help solve this controversy might help inspire the adoption of other creative ideas. For example, since redistricting software is now available online, the Legislature ought to consider holding a statewide student competition to come up with the final plans included in the Redistricting Lottery. (If the Supreme Court's timetable makes this impossible for the 2016 election cycle, a student competition could be adopted in future redistricting years.)

Whatever the case, we need a way to end all the legal maneuvering and political shenanigans surrounding redistricting. We need a random act of redistricting kindness: The Legislature should call on the Florida Lottery to help select a plan.

William Mattox is a registered independent who helps lead student civics programs for The James Madison Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Tallahassee.

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