Maps crafted by political insiders affect all Floridians

Anthony Man | Sun Sentinel | 07/17/2011

It's little-known outside the world of political insiders — but it has an effect on everyone in Florida.

"Redistricting is one of the craziest things that will ever happen in Tallahassee," said state Sen. Chris Smith, a Democrat who represents Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The once-a-decade redrawing of the lines for voting districts, said South Florida pollster and political analyst Jim Kane, "is probably the most important decision that Florida will do in the next 10 years, politically speaking."

Q: What is redistricting?

A: It's the dividing up of all the state's residents into districts from which they elect members of Congress, Florida senators and state representatives. It happens every 10 years to reflect population changes uncovered in the census. Each district is supposed to end up with an equal population so a South Florida resident's vote is equal to that of someone who lives in Jacksonville, Orlando or Panama City.

Q: How does it affect me?

A: The way district boundaries are drawn determines if you're represented by someone in your community or by someone who lives 125 miles away on the other side of the state. It can give one party an advantage in elections, or give both sides a competitive chance.

Q: Who decides what the districts will look like?

A: The state Legislature draws the lines for Congress, the state Senate and the state House. County commissions, school boards and city, town and village governments that hold elections by district decide on their own boundaries.

Q: Why is it sometimes hard to tell who represents me?

A: Districts have had their boundaries designed in sometimes seemingly chaotic ways to benefit the political party in charge of drawing the maps. Using census data and records of past voting patterns in different communities, the map makers can create districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic or overwhelmingly Republican.

Q: Will redistricting change the overwhelming dominance Republicans have in the Florida Legislature?

A: Even if the fairest possible districts are drawn, Republicans are likely to hold majorities in the state House and state Senate, said Kane, the South Florida pollster and University of Florida adjunct political science professor. He said Republicans won't likely have the outsized advantage they enjoy today, which would give Democrats the chance to influence decision-making, something they can't do now with their very small numbers.

Q: How will it affect the region's most prominent members of Congress, U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Allen West, R-Plantation?

A: Republicans who control redistricting would love to make life tough for Wasserman Schultz, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Both Smith and Shane Strum, former chairman of the Broward Republican Party, said that's exceedingly unlikely because Broward is so heavily Democratic and moving lines around to hurt Wasserman Schultz would have the side-effect of hurting incumbent Republican members of Congress.

West's situation is much more complicated. His Broward-Palm Beach county district is evenly split between the two parties, so the Republicans would like to shore up party strength for West, just the way they did 10 years ago when the territory was represented by then-U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale.

The problem is that the most fertile Republican ground in the area is part of the district represented by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, so helping West would come at his expense, Strum and Smith said.

Q: When will this all be resolved?

A: It's going to play out for another year — possibly longer. The Legislature convenes in January 2012 and has two months to produce redistricting plans, which must also be reviewed by the state attorney general, the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Justice. It's supposed to be finalized by June so candidates can begin campaigning for the August primary elections.

Democrats and Republicans alike predict it ultimately will be resolved in the courts.

Political analyst explains why Republicans control the Legislature even though Democrats outnumber Republican registered voters on the Broward Politics blog at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.

aman@tribune.com or 954-356-4550

Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


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