Florida Legislators Deny Gerrymandering As They Slouch Back to the Drawing Board

FRANCIS CLINES | The New York Times | 08/13/2015

In 2010, 63 percent of Florida voters approved a “Fair Districts” amendment to the state constitution designed to end the partisan dirty pool that is as old as Congress itself — the gerrymandering of congressional boundaries to favor one party over the other. Patrick Henry tried it first in Virginia in 1788, having lines drawn to block James Madison from a congressional seat, but Madison prevailed before the voters.

Would modern Florida fare any better in ending gerrymandering? Not so far, according to a series of court reprimands. Five years after “Fair Districts” there was loud groaning this week from the state’s Republican Legislature as it was forced back into a special session to make a third attempt at drawing congressional boundaries. The state Supreme Court ruled last month that the latest map was tainted by blatant gerrymandering skewed to guarantee Republican victories.

The court heard testimony from Republican party consultants who had been in on the map-drawing process with proposed redesigns dubbed “Sputnik,” “Schmedloff,” and “Frankenstein.” Tired of the back-room conspiring, the court ordered the Legislature to turn over all map documents and advised leaders to refrain from secret meetings on the new map and to “consider making all the decisions on the redrawn map in public view.”

Outraged Republicans complained the court was riding “roughshod” over the Legislature, curtailing lawmakers’ free speech and being partisan in finding for the watchdog groups that sued. One of the litigants, the League of Women Voters of Florida, claimed the ruling was a victory over “unbelievable devious political scheming.”

A victory for voters will require a new map that is not gerrymandered, if that is possible. The result is likely to reconfigure nearly all of the state’s 27 congressional districts and leave various incumbents scrambling to survive in next year’s elections, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “Everyone wants to protect their own territory,” said Arthenia Joyner, the leader of the Senate Democrats. “That’s how we got into this mess.”

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