Our politicians design districts to protect their seats and perpetuate their power. They pick their voters, rather than voters choosing them. They rig districts so they can't lose.
We have the chance to stop this unfair power grab! We can make the Legislature follow fairness standards in Congressional and Legislative redistricting.
How do we stop legislators from rigging their districts?
The Florida Constitution can be amended to make the legislature follow fairness standards in redistricting.
What is the purpose of redistricting?
Every ten years, after the census, the boundaries of our congressional, state house and state senate districts are redrawn. This was originally intended to be sure that districts are roughly equal in population -- to make sure that every vote counts equally. But the process has been hijacked by self-interested politicians.
Who makes the districting decisions?
The Florida Legislature. When the legislature passes a congressional or legislative redistricting plan, it's just like other legislation. All representatives and senators vote on the plan. The party that controls the legislature controls redistricting. The plan that gets the majority vote becomes the legislature's plan. No matter which party has control of the legislature, that party's main goal is to protect its majority and the seats of its incumbents. This is called partisan political gerrymandering. It is like allowing the fox to guard the henhouse!
How do they Gerrymander districts?
Florida's present system permits politicians to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives. Legislators use sophisticated computers, voter registration data and past election returns to predict how particular voters will vote in the future. Then they choose which voters are most likely to vote for them and their party and place just enough of those voters in "safe" districts -- ones they are sure they can win. Those in charge also pack large numbers of unfavorable voters in into a few districts so the unfriendly voters will have a chance to win in fewer districts.
What do we need to do to stop the legislators from drawing district lines for their own political gain?
Now our constitution contains no standards to prevent politicians from putting partisan politics ahead of Florida voters. Presently, the law only requires that districts be roughly equal in population and that they consist of contiguous territory. That means that all parts of the district must touch. But the legislators even stretch that rule to the max. A connecting strip a yard wide and miles long satisfies that requirement. An example is Senate District 27 which is considered "contiguous". Sometimes contiguity is accomplished by crossing bodies of water -- like Congressional District 11 which covers parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties.
How will the new rules make a difference?
The new rules or standards proposed by FairDistrictsFlorida.org will prohibit drawing districts to favor an incumbent or a party. While ensuring that racial and language minority voters have the equal opportunity to participate in the political process, the standards will require that districts be compact and community based. Communities -- like Seminole County -- will not be divided among multiple representatives.
What will happen if we do not establish standards?
Legislators will continue to perpetuate their own power through political gerrymandering. So while Florida is a politically balanced state, its Congressional and legislative representation will not be! Presently Democrats and Republicans are registered to vote in Florida in roughly equal numbers with independents making up 20% of the voters. Yet one major party holds almost two-thirds of the Congressional and legislative seats. There are no independents in the Florida Legislature or in our Congressional delegation. This is because the party that controlled both houses of the legislature at the last redistricting in 2001, drew the boundaries to create "safe" "can't lose" districts. Whichever party was in charge would have done the same thing. Whichever party controls the legislature in the 2011 redistricting, the political playing field will remain unbalanced -- unless we change the rules to make it unconstitutional for them to conduct business as usual.
How can we make the legislators follow the standards?
The procedure for redistricting is set forth in the Florida Constitution. In order to stop the legislators from this self interested power grab, we must amend the constitution. The first step is to collect signatures on 1.6 million petitions so that the voters will have an opportunity to vote. We need your help in signing the petitions and in getting your friends, neighbors and colleagues to sign too!