Throughout Florida history, rampant gerrymandering deeply compromised our government by suppressing citizens’ rights to fairly elect representatives to the legislature and Congress. Elected officials were effectively choosing their voters and voters had no true ability to select their representatives of choice because elections were predetermined by the outlines of the districts. This practice silenced the voices of citizens – especially those most in need of a voice in Tallahassee and Washington.
When districts are intentionally designed to create sure wins for one party or the other, then most elections are decided in partisan primaries; the most extreme candidates are elected; and politicians are not responsive because they are guaranteed reelection in rigged districts. Thus, legislative bodies become populated with representatives who have no incentive to ever compromise or find solutions for the common good.
In Florida where statewide elections generally run very close to 50-50, the party that has controlled redistricting has disproportionally controlled the congressional delegation, the state senate and the state house. Before the FairDistricts Amendments all three had 2/3 to 1/3 partisan divides.
WHAT WAS DONE ABOUT IT?
In 2010 Florida voters passed the FairDistricts Amendments to establish constitutional limits on political gerrymandering. Our Constitution now contains standards for the legislature to follow when redrawing district lines:
- Districts must not be drawn with intent to favor incumbents or political parties. Districts must be compact and must respect county and city lines.
- Districts must not be drawn to diminish voting rights of racial and language voters.
- Districts must be compact, follow local boundaries and be as equal in population as feasible.
WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN PASSING THE AMENDMENTS?
- The FairDistricts Coalition gathered well over 1.6 million signatures, obtained approval of the language from the Florida Supreme Court, and got 63% of the popular vote.
- The Tallahassee power structure, backed by millions of dollars from the Republican Party of Florida and outside money from the likes of the Koch Brothers, were desperate to hold on to their power to rig districts and they vigorously opposed these constitutional restraints on their power.
- The Legislature attempted to eviscerate the new constitutional language by placing a “poison pill” amendment on the ballot that would have rendered the FairDistricts standards meaningless. At the urging on the FairDistricts Coalition the Florida Supreme Court knocked it off the ballot for being misleading and for being intended to confuse the voters.
- A lawsuit was filed by two Members of Congress (one Democrat and one Republican) with the intent of having the two citizen amendments removed from the ballot. The FairDistricts Coalition defended, and the Supreme Court dismissed the case.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE AMENDMENTS WERE PASSED
- Within hours of the passage of the amendments, two members of Congress – joined by the Florida House of Representatives – sued to have the amendments held unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution. Once again, the FairDistricts coalition engaged in litigation and the court dismissed the case – a total victory for FairDistricts.
- In mid-2011, legislative leaders launched a fraudulent redistricting process by touting their plans to engage in “the most open, transparent, interactive and unbiased redistricting process ever.”
- We now know that – at the very same time – Republican political operatives in Tallahassee and Washington were drawing maps to favor Republicans and scheming with the Legislative leaders to find ways to secretly slip the maps to the legislature.
- Those maps, passed by the 2012 Legislature, totally failed to comply with the FairDistricts Amendments.
- The FairDistricts Coalition embarked on 4 ½ years of scorched earth litigation to challenge the maps and, after 8 trips to the Florida Supreme Court, the courts approved compliant maps drawn by the coalition for use through 2020. The courts recognized that the Legislature’s conspiracy with their political operatives had made a “mockery” of the FairDistricts constitutional provisions.
- The new maps leveled the political laying field in Florida and now are the benchmark maps against which future maps should be judged.