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Understanding Florida Redistricting

For starters, here’s the new congressional map and the new senate map.

Now that’s out of the way… Let’s rewind and look back at the twisty, frustrating, exceedingly complicated route it took to get us here. This whole redistricting saga started back in 2012, when the state legislature passed new plans for the state’s senate and congressional districts. These new plans were based on the 2010 Census, outlining the districts from which Florida voters elect their representatives. Districts are important because their borders determine who a voter’s representative is in Congress, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

District maps are typically redrawn every 10 years using new Census data. So you may be asking yourself, “Self, if lines are only drawn every decade, and they were just drawn in 2012, why have I been hearing so much about redistricting over the past couple of months?” Good question, self!

Florida State Capitol and House office (Courtesy of Michael Rivera/Wikimedia Commons)
Florida State Capitol and House office. (Courtesy of Michael Rivera/Wikimedia Commons)

District maps are supposed to be drawn so that each district has an equal population and those divisions do not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. But it turns out the congressional map approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature on February 9, 2012, and signed into law a few days later actually violated the state constitution, according to Ballotopedia. Opponents filed a suit on the very day it was approved. Two years of grueling court battles later, on July 10, 2014, Florida Circuit Court Judge Terry P. Lewis ruled that the congressional map was unconstitutional, particularly with regards to Districts 5 and District 10, which are in central and northern Florida, respectively. He ordered the map to be redrawn to amend both districts. But the Florida Supreme Court thought that the new map was still unconstitutional and called for “a more meaningful remedy commensurate with the constitutional violations it found.” On July 9, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court called for the remediation of eight districts in total: District 5, District 13, District 14, District 21, District 22, District 25, District 26, and District 27.  (Miami-Dade County includes 24-27, by the way.)

Meanwhile, in 2012 and 2014, elections continued all over the state, using a faulty, unfair map. The state supreme court then ordered a whole new map drawn up for the 2016 elections. And that turned out to be a giant mega nightmare, too!

A special session to discuss the congressional map convened from Aug. 10 through Aug. 22. Lasting for 2 weeks, and costing taxpayers $221,741, it ended without reaching any sort of agreement. So, of course, another special session was held to discuss the senate map from Oct. 19 to Nov. 6, 2015. This one lasted 3 weeks, cost taxpayers more than $250,000, and once again, accomplished nothing.  

 

After the Florida legislature tried repeatedly and still failed to draw a fair congressional map themselves, on Dec. 2, 2015, the supreme court settled on a map drawn by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida, and several Democrat-leaning individuals, according to the Miami Herald. With congressional maps out of the way, it was time to get the senate sorted. On Dec. 30, 2015, Circuit Judge George Reynolds approved a new senate map, which was drawn by a coalition of voting rights groups, according to Bay 9 News. It’s still awaiting approval at the supreme court, though it’s expected to pass. Finally.

Now, after four years and $8 million in legal fees paid for by the taxpayers, the redistricting saga finally seems to be over, according to the Miami Herald. And that means in 2016, every single seat is up for grabs. It’s a once-in-a-generation chance to significantly change state government.

This could be the best time for an underdog to enter the race and totally shake up the way things are done in Tallahassee. It just happened at the local level — no one expected newcomer Ken Russell to win the coveted District 2 commissioner seat, after he was vastly outspent by the two establishment candidates. And now Russell, whose previous political experience was limited to serving as president of his son’s Parent Teacher Association, is a City of Miami commissioner.

Think you could do a better job than our current state representatives? You’ve got plenty of time — the state house and senate elections will be on Nov. 8, 2016. The window to register to run opens from June 20 – 24.