Where Do We Go From Here? The Uncertain Future of Redistricting in Florida

Where Do We Go From Here? The Uncertain Future of Redistricting in Florida

August days

Looking back on district maps

That once gave us near certain chance

We thought our plan would last through time.

But it’s tougher now

The litigation was oh so long

And now the private chats are all but gone

I can’t stop thinking ‘bout what went wrong.

Where do we go from here?

Tell me, where do we go from here?

Our map was meant to take us through the years

So where do we go from here?

(sung to the tune of Where Do I Go From Here?)

I couldn’t help thinking of this old Carpenters/England Dan and John Ford Coley/Barry Manilow ballad as I read the news from Tallahassee. Surely there’s a sense of a relationship that has come to an end.

That relationship involved intimate, private conversations among clever political strategists, earnest politicians, and calculating number crunchers. It involved mastering the fine art of massaging big data to produce big advantages for individual candidates as well as a partisan cause. In public, it was polite (for the most part) and noble. In private . . . well, sometimes.

But in the end, like a summer romance, the relationship unraveled, ended by the more serious demands of meaningful representation imposed by constitutional amendment.

As the Florida House and Senate advance their different congressional district maps, assuring us of both a timely reconciliation and a public one, I find it impossible not to wonder what will come next, after the next census.

What the Fair Districts amendments have done, thanks to persistence on the part of plaintiffs and deep respect by the judiciary for the intentions of the people, is tear apart the old way of designing Florida’s political landscape to advantage. More public, more constrained by considerations other than partisanship or personal ambition, our process is becoming . . . well, certainly different. One might hope (I certainly do) that it also will lead to a legislative delegation more representative of the people of this great state.

That is not to condemn those who have served in districts crafted previously. We’ve been well-served by some of the members of Congress whose districts will look very different in a few days. It’s not about the quality of the individuals, but the fairness and representativeness of the process by which individuals are chosen to serve.

It’s not all good news, even for someone as enthusiastic about these reforms as I am. New uncertainties have been created by the certainty that district lines will have to be drawn with greater attention to natural and political boundaries and less attention to partisan and personal considerations.

For one, there is the question of the court’s review of the new congressional district map. Add to that various threats to challenge the process, the map or the amendments themselves in court (whether on 1st, 5th or 14th Amendment grounds), and one can anticipate a continuing cloud of uncertainty hovering over our congressional elections and our congressional delegation, perhaps all the way to the next decennial census.

For another, there are the suggestions of additional reforms to the process of redistricting. Some have suggested an effort ought to be made to repeal the Fair Districts amendments (an effort I hope will fail to gain traction). Others have suggested that the business of drawing district lines without weighing heavily the partisan advantage and personal ambition of the individuals who vote on the maps is too difficult for mere mortals. For these, an independent commission tasked with drawing the maps seems to be the preferred option . . . something that would require another amendment to the state constitution.

Then there is the internal dynamic of the state Supreme Court. The decision that gave us this special session for congressional districts and accelerated the state Senate’s decision to redraw its own district map was a solid 5-2 majority. But members of the judiciary, historically, have been reluctant to tread too heavily in the garden of redistricting. Because there is no such thing as the “perfect” map from a fairness standpoint, a choice between maps inherently involves some uncomfortably personal choices. Had it not been for what the court saw as egregious examples of partisan and personal gamesmanship written into the political fabric of the state by redistricting, I doubt the court would have been so united and so decisive in its ruling.

Where do we go from here?

I hope we embrace the intention of the voters of this state when they passed these amendments. I hope we declare that district maps are not to be the means by which parties or individuals win political victories they otherwise could not win.

I hope that redistricting becomes more of an exercise in drawing, in as straightforward a fashion as possible, districts that reflect the geographic and jurisdictional realities of this state, forming natural alliances of groups of communities who elect legislators who know them and are committed to their interests . . . and those of all the people of this great state.

That’s a relationship that truly can endure through time. Because it is a real relationship . . . real representation.

2 Responses to Where Do We Go From Here? The Uncertain Future of Redistricting in Florida

  • CJ Lewis

    Don’t forget local government gerrymandering. Most of the damage to democracy is being done there. Until the Florida Legislature adopts a state law requiring all municipalities to have non-gerrymandered districts, the problem will continue to fester beneath the radar screen of a disinterested local media that cannot understand the story and does not want to report it. [Most of this comment was not approved for posting.]

    • Dr. Scott Paine

      A fair concern. We ought not to assume that the only challenges faced with fair district boundaries are those at the state level.

      I would not support a state mandate on this issue, however; such requirements can be written into city charters by the citizens of the city, as the citizens of Florida wrote fairness requirements into our state constitution. Appropriate standards also might vary with the city; at least some of the standards imposed on the state legislature by the Fair District amendments would not be relevant to most cities (e.g., giving partisan advantage, respecting existing jurisdictional boundaries), but citizens in particular cities might come up with their own criteria to replace them.