Speed up redistricting

The Miami Herald Editorial | The Miami Herald | 08/21/2011

Every 10 years, legislators in Florida and every other state are required to redraw legislative and congressional districts using fresh census figures in an effort to promote fairness in the political system. Unfortunately, it’s become an exercise in protecting political turf instead of protecting voting rights and representation.

As a result, Florida’s districts look like Rorschach ink blots. (Not that other states are much better.) They split communities and stretch across county lines without regard to any unifying principle, making it hard to disagree with cynics who say redistricting is a ploy by our representatives use to pick their voters, instead of having voters pick them.

Insisting that public input will be at the forefront of this process, the Florida legislative committee tasked with creating new district boundaries is now on a road trip across the state asking voters for feedback. The hundreds of citizens who attend these hearings are free to have their opinions heard, but they’re at a disadvantage because legislators have not drawn any proposed boundaries to make the process both more useful and practical.

So what are they commenting on?

The intention of voters was made unmistakably clear when a significant majority approved Amendments 5 and 6 last year. Voters sent an unequivocal message to lawmakers: Don’t design districts to tighten your grip on power and shut others out. Make districts contiguous and compact. In short: Have them make sense.

But instead of mapping rational districts using existing geographical boundaries, the Florida redistricting committee waited until June to start a series of 26 public hearings, which the League of Women Voters calls a “three-month diversionary use of time.” A stalling tactic.

The committee created an impossibly tight deadline that leaves little wiggle room for June’s candidate filing deadlines. The committee’s response: It wants the public — and the League — to suggest the map lines, as if the U. S. Constitution did not clearly put that onus on the Legislature.

With the current schedule, the new district boundaries will be ready just days before the June candidate filing deadline. When candidates file next year, will they even know what districts they’re running in? Will voters? Elections supervisors are rightfully in a panic.

Legislators appear to be dragging their feet, so they can have another election with gerrymandered districts where they already have the advantage of incumbency.

It’s hard to take the process seriously when the very people who get to decide are the ones with a vested interest in the outcome — the ones who sued to stop voters’ will. It is difficult to have faith in the process when the Florida House has spent nearly $1 million to fight the amendments they now promise to abide by.

It looks more like Florida legislators are deliberately stalling, which the committee’s own attorney said will create chaos in the 2012 elections. The Florida League of Women Voters, the NAACP, Democracia USA and Common Cause have asked the committee to pick up its pace, and legislators should listen. Our democratic system is at stake.
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