Fair Districting for Florida

It seems that ever since the Presidential Election of 2000, many Americans believe that elections in Florida are an ongoing joke.

Butterfly Ballot

Some Floridians found this ballot was confusing.

In the popular view, it has been due to "hanging chads," botched recounts and ballots that confused some voters. However, to political scientists, Florida is one of a handful of states that is known for excessive gerrymandering or the drawing election districts that specifically favor those in power. As amazing as it may sound, biasing the electoral map in this manner is totally legal in Florida as long as it does not harm any protected ethnic or racial minorities. This happens because there is no law against it and the job of redrawing the electoral district map is given to the Legislature who have their own self-interest in mind. Since they can legally use the process to benefit themselves and their party it is human nature to do so. The result is that future elections are skewed in favor of those who drew the map. This process will continue whether the Democrats or Republicans are in power unless the people of Florida do something to stop it.

There is a need to periodically redraw election maps due to significant population shifts in modern America. This means that as time goes on, the value of any electoral districting scheme deteriorates because of changes in population densities. Faster growing districts become underrepresented over time resulting in disfranchisement of the voting groups that live in those areas. This is referred to as malapportionment.

To solve the problem caused by population movement, the framers of the Constitution decreed that the US conduct a census every ten years and reapportion the members of Congress accordingly. Since the number of congressional seats is fixed, states like Florida, that grow faster than average in population gain congressional representation while others that grow more slowly have a net loss. As a result of this reapportionment, Florida will be required to go through a redistricting process in which the electoral map for Congressional districts will be redrawn. At the same time the district map for the Florida legislature is also redrawn.

How Gerrymandering Works

Consider a election in which the Orange Party has a 9:6 majority over the Magenta party with three equal districts

In creating 3 equally mixed districts, the Orange Party wins all districts allowing a disproportional result in favor of the Orange Party

Using fair districting, the Magenta Party wins the central district and provides for proportional representation for both parties

By using packing and cracking techniques that favor the Magentas, Gerrymandering can actually create a 2:1 majority of the districts thus favoring the minority Magenta Party

Chart courtesy of Wikipedia

Although malapportionment can result in disproportionate representation for different voter groups, so can redistricting. Just because districts have the same population does not mean that each vote actually carries the same weight. Gerrymandering is the art and science of drawing electoral maps in order to maximize the effect of favorable voters and minimize the effect of the remainder of the population. Every ten years, the politicians in power in Florida legally work to thumb the scales to influence the makeup of both the Congressional Delegation and the State Legislature in their favor.

Gerrymandering has rich history in the US. In 1811, the Massachusetts legislature redrew the electoral map to benefit the incumbent party and Governor Elbridge Gerry signed off on the map. An infamous political cartoon appeared in the Boston Gazette of that depicted the strange shape of one the districts as a dragon-like creature and dubbed it a Gerrymander, a portmanteau of Gerry and salamander.

The trick to making this work effectively is for the party in power to pack opposition party voters into a few districts and spread the remainder among the rest of the districts where they will be in the minority. While the opposition party wins by a landslide in those few districts, the controlling party wins the majority of the remaining districts by a smaller margin. Those drawing the electoral map can control the state legislature despite the fact that their opponents have more overall votes. With the advent of modern computers, elaborate electoral databases and modern spatial data analysis methods, Gerrymandering has been elevated to an almost precise science that leaves little chance for creating an accidentally competitive district. With the modern tools available to them, politicians can essentially choose their constituency rather than having the constituency choose their politicians. It seems that some politicians love the democratic process as long as the voters don't have too much involvement.

There is much more at stake than merely the principle of reasonableness. The loss of fair districting has far reaching consequences on all citizens and even on the overall election process. Electoral maps can be drawn to either unite or divide communities and divided communities are often left without any representative who feels responsible for their concerns. Non-competitive districts discourage good candidates from even attempting to run a race because of the overwhelming advantage enjoyed by the incumbent and the excessive cost of a campaign attempt. When candidates are virtually assured of a win they put more effort into securing party nomination rather than gaining approval of the general electorate. Thus party politics wins out over the will of the people and this effectively disenfranchises the public as a whole.

There are many more benefits to competitive districting than just the sense of fairness. If either party can effectively field a candidate more qualified candidates will run for election thus giving voters a better slate of candidates. Competitive districting will encourage candidates to campaign with greater enthusiasm, causing them to be more aggressive in getting out meeting voters and listening to their concerns. Because of this, a legislature consisting of more candidates from competitive districts will better reflect the will of the people.

A neutral electoral system improves even incumbents by making them focus on a wider range of constituents because they are concerned that they might lose in a tight election. Voter turnout improves, not only due to the fact that candidates are working harder to engage their constituents in the electoral process, but also because all candidates will work harder to get out the vote. Balanced districts tend to elect more moderate legislators because they must appeal to a larger portion of the political spectrum in order to get elected.

While the need for reapportionment is essential, the manner in which it is done is equally critical. The composition of the districts themselves has a strong influence on who gets elected, what kinds of laws are enacted and ultimately the future course of the state of Florida. The time to put an end to electoral engineering in Florida has long since past.

Every registered voter in the state has an opportunity to help create an electoral system that will allow proportional and descriptive representation for future generations of Floridians. Visit FairDistrictsFlorida.org for more information about these amendments. Vote yes on Amendments 5 and 6.