Friday, November 24, 2017
Politics

Romano: Judge should end election rigging with new district maps

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So the current maps are a scam. The state Senate has all but admitted that.

And nobody seems to trust legislators, consultants, activists or even fate when it comes to drawing new Senate districts for future elections.

Every possible solution comes wrapped in accusation, and every participant is presumed to have an ulterior motive.

So what's a judge to do?

Err on the side of chaos.

That's not a joke. The worst thing Circuit Judge George Reynolds can do when the redistricting trial begins this month is assume the problem can be fixed with tweaks.

The truth is, redistricting is institutional fraud. It is a way for politicians to rig elections in advance, and essentially turn your vote into a worthless ceremony.

You might think that sounds overwrought and hyperbolic, but the evidence says otherwise. And you need only look at a decade's worth of elections to recognize that.

When maps were redrawn by the GOP for the 2002 election, Republicans emerged with a 26-14 advantage in the Senate and an 81-39 advantage in the House.

On the surface, there's nothing wrong with that. Maybe the GOP had better candidates. Better ideas. Better fundraisers.

It's true Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the state in 2002 — and still do today — but it's not inconceivable that at one snapshot in time voters were feeling more conservative than their party affiliation might suggest.

What is much, much harder to explain is how, more than a decade later, the results are exactly the same.

Voter dissatisfaction is rampant. Outside candidates are all the rage. No-party and third-party-affiliated voters are making a dent at the ballot box. Polls say residents are utterly dissatisfied with the job our lawmakers are doing in Tallahassee.

And yet the GOP still has a 26-14 lead in the Senate and an 81-39 lead in the House.

How is that possible?

Because the vast majority of districts are purposefully drawn to ensure a particular party will win no matter who the candidate is.

When it comes to statewide races, Florida voters are virtually split between Democrats and Republicans. Democrat Barack Obama carried Florida by narrow margins in 2008 and 2012, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott squeaked out victories in 2010 and 2014.

So when you eliminate voting districts, Florida is as moderate as it gets. And yet when voters are confined to the Legislature's imaginary voting lines, Florida becomes one of the most Republican-leaning states in America.

Give or take a few special elections, there were 80 Senate seats up for grabs from 2004 to 2010. Only four times did a seat switch from one party to the other. And only five times was an election decided by 5 percentage points or less. In other words, most of those elections were decided long before any of us picked up a ballot.

Admittedly, there is no easy solution to this problem. Drastically changing district maps could create a greater balance between parties, but it might also have an adverse effect on African-American and Hispanic-leaning districts.

So, no, the perfect answer may not exist. But this point cannot be denied:

There are nearly 12 million registered voters in Florida, and yet a handful of politicians in Tallahassee are controlling state elections.

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