Florida's Redistricting Process: The Power and Diversity of One Person, One Vote

Marlon Hill[ck_comma] Esq. | South Florida Caribbean News | 08/14/2011

MIAMI - Every ten years, the Florida Legislature reshapes the districts of political boundary lines of every state legislative and congressional district in the State. This process is critical to your single vote and your expected representation at the state and federal levels.

The Legislature has already begun the redistricting process by holding legislative committee hearings and developing map-drawing software that will be available to the public.

Public hearings around the state are planned for July-November, 2011. The House and Senate redistricting committees will meet in the Fall and the final maps will be voted on during the sixty day 2012 legislative session which starts on January 10, 2012.

This summer, as the Florida House of Representatives survey the state for public input, all citizens are encouraged to participate in the upcoming redistricting process. These hearings are intended to provide an opportunity for you to submit ideas for these new state legislative and congressional districts.

The Florida House of Representatives is emphasizing that redistricting must occur with a focus on adherence to federal law, the standards of the newly adopted constitutional Amendments 5 and 6, and traditional principles that are consistent with those standards.

To follow the process closely, all citizens are encourage to monitor all developments at www.floridaredistricting.org.

Over 62% of Floridians overwhelmingly approved Amendments 5 and 6 to ensure that the redistricting process is fair to all Floridians, including minority voters:

Amendment 5: Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Amendment 6: Congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Please note that there will be a debate within many communities, including those among minorities, as to the implications of this process. It is well documented that Florida has a long, unfortunate history of discrimination against minorities, and this has played out in our elections and our politics. We had discriminatory election policies, like poll taxes on minority voters, and all-white primaries.

For a very long time, Florida’s minority voters could not effectively participate in the political process. Until in recent decades, there was no Hispanic member of our state senate. And until the 1992 elections, no African American had represented Florida in Congress for over 100 years. Only after a bitter lawsuit aimed at protecting Florida’s minority voters by enforcing the federal Voting Rights Act did Florida actually elect an African-American member to Congress.

But we still face discrimination in our politics, and it has to do with the way that our congressional and legislative districts are currently drawn. Some of our districts waste minority votes. These districts are overwhelmingly populated with minority voters, and it means that legislators strategically drew districts that limited minority influence to only a few districts. This wasting of minority votes dilutes the influence of minority voters over our representatives. In some circumstances, a district does not need to be majority-minority for minority voters to elect their preferred candidate. Presently, our 17th, and 23rd congressional districts, for example, are roughly 58% and 54% African-American and our 18th, 21st, and 25th congressional districts are roughly 67%, 77% and 72% Hispanic.

Districts can still be effective for minority voters at levels lower than the minority percentages in these districts. By concentrating all minority voters into a few districts, the line drawers were able to corral minorities into a few districts and keep minorities out of certain adjoining districts. In so doing, the process gives a stronger voice to non-minority voters in those other districts. This is wrong. Amendments 5 and 6 endeavored to end these practices.

Concurrently, we live in a State that is growing increasingly diverse and complex in multiple demographics. For example, the Caribbean-American population is transforming the make-up of Black and Asian populations in counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Collier, Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Duval, and other pockets, especially from the English and Creole-speaking Caribbean nations (e.g., Haiti, Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana). Likewise, the Hispanic community is experiencing similar growth and diversity with migrants spanning the Caribbean, Central and South America (e.g., Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Brazil). In this regard, the redistricting process must recognize and ensure that these new Floridians and their representation are not marginalized or diluted. The Legislature must remain diligent in assessing these growing trends around the State.

To this end, it is important that you present your recommendations and ideas to our legislators to ensure that no district shall be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice. Likewise, you should also urge legislators to ensure that no redistricting map violates your federal rights under the Voting Rights Act, the federal Constitution, or any other federal law.

Amendments 5 and 6 and federal law can co-exist. There is no choice of which to follow, one or the other. The Voting Rights Act doesn’t require that minorities be squeezed into a few districts and kept out of others, and now the Florida Constitution prohibits this unfair practice as well.

This week in South Florida, you will have an opportunity to make your voices be heard. Legislators should hear the following key points:

· We are watching this redistricting process closely to ensure that you preserve our democracy and one person-one vote;

· Voice your mandate of “one person, one-vote”, ensure the implementation of the language of minority protections in Amendments 5 and 6 to the Florida Constitution, consistent the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and urge legislators from sequestering minority voters into only a few districts and thereby wasting and diluting our votes;

· To be cognizant of the growing diversity in the demographics of minority populations, especially among Black, Asian, and Hispanic communities and how they are transforming neighborhoods and communities;

· Please ensure that districts are compact, contiguous and to provide proposed maps at the earliest possible date to solicit more public input.

If anyone wants to know who represents them on the State and federal level in Florida – go to this link and simply enter their address, city, and zip code: http://tinyurl.com/4gphgxe

Please RSVP to make any public comments at www.floridaredistricting.org or by contacting the office of your respective State Representative:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM*
Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton

Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 6:00 - 9:00 PM*
Broward College, Central Campus, Davie

Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM*
Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, Miami

Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 6:00 - 9:00 PM*
Florida International University College of Law, West Miami-Dade

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