Florida Advances Redistricting Reforms

Florida is advancing two redistricting reform ballot initiatives for statewide voter approval in November 2010 but still needs more signatures before they will appear on the ballot. FairDistrictsFlorida.org, the author of the initiatives, is a nonpartisan organization that is seeking to reform the state’s process for drawing state legislative and congressional district lines by placing redistricting criteria in the state constitution.  Florida state law allows the inclusion of initiatives on state ballots after Supreme Court approval and petitioners obtain some seven hundred thousand petitions per initiative.  The redistricting initiatives attempt to prevent gerrymandering by mandating that districts may not be drawn to favor a party or an incumbent.  They also establish that where possible and not in conflict with other laws districts should be drawn to be compact, of equal population, and follow existing city, county, and geographical boundaries.

Both initiatives affect the criteria used to draw Florida state legislature and congressional districts, not the process. Enforcing its strict interpretation of the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled than an initiative may either address the criteria or the process, not both.  One of the two initiatives creates standards for establishing congressional district boundaries, while the second creates standards for establishing state legislative district boundaries.

The congressional ballot initiative states that:

In establishing Congressional district boundaries:
(1) No apportionment plan or individual district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not 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; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.
(2) Unless compliance with the standards in this subsection conflicts with the standards in subsection (1) or with federal law, districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.
(3)  The order in which the standards within sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section are set forth shall not be read to establish any priority of one standard over the other within that subsection.

The legislative ballot initiative states that:

In establishing Legislative district boundaries:
(1) No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not 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; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.
(2) Unless compliance with the standards in this subsection conflicts with the standards in subsection (1) or with federal law, districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.
(3) The order in which the standards within sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section are set forth shall not be read to establish any priority of one standard over the other within that subsection.

Justin Levitt, Counsel at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, reviewed the proposals and noted the following:

  • the proposals should “substantially reduce the likelihood of substantial population disparities.”
  • “compactness” is not specifically defined in the proposals, and “may be difficult to enforce.”
  • the exclusion of party and incumbency interests, when combined “with a credible judicial threat of enforcement” should “discourage blatant attempts to gerrymander districts in order to avoid competition.”

It should be noted that Florida has a greater chance of succeeding in passing these criteria-based redistricting reforms compared to other states because the Florida State Supreme Court must review the redistricting proposals whereas in some other states a plaintiff with established standing must challenge the plans.

Leave a reply