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'Fair districts' for Florida is only a beginning

Let's talk about fair voting districts for Florida.

There are 4.6 million registered Democrats in Florida, 4 million registered Republicans, and 2.6 million voters registered as something else.

And yet, when you divide Florida into district elections, Republicans dominate utterly.

Republicans hold 19 of 25 seats in Congress and two-thirds of the seats in both houses of our Legislature.

Maybe this is because Republicans in general are better at electoral politics. (I think they are, by the way.)

Maybe a lot of Floridians agree with the Republican philosophy regardless of their own party registration. (They do, by the way.)

Maybe Republicans tend to recruit better candidates and do a better technical job of winning elections. (They do, by the way.)

And maybe

Maybe one factor in this Republican dominance is that the Republicans get to draw the maps of the voting districts in the first place, since they control the Legislature. The new maps have to be drawn by the spring of 2012.

However, this time around the rules will be different, and we are starting an interesting experiment.

Last November, Florida voters passed two "fair districts" amendments, one for Congress and one for the Legislature. Both declared that districts in Florida can no longer be drawn …

with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.

Problem solved?

No. This is only the beginning of the fights we have to fight.

First, two of our members of Congress (Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami) immediately filed a federal lawsuit. We'll have to see how that plays out over the next few months.

Next, remember that the Legislature is still going to draw the maps — there are just more rules involved, and more reasons for people to go to court afterward.

The Legislature's leaders, in opposing the fair districts campaign last year, argued that it will be impossible to live up to their standards.

How can any district be drawn that doesn't favor or disfavor somebody? If a particular county or city is just chock-full of Republicans or Democrats, what are we supposed to do to keep from "favoring" that side?

The courts will have to figure this out from scratch. What, exactly, is acceptable proof of the "intent" to favor one party or one incumbent?

(No wonder Dean Cannon, the Republican House speaker, wanted to split the Florida Supreme Court in half, and give Gov. Rick Scott a majority of new appointees to hear this case!)

One thing that is not going to happen from all this is an overnight political revolution in Florida, unless the districts are somehow magically rigged in the opposite direction.

Some Republican incumbents will find themselves with more credible challengers. Democrats will probably pick up a few seats in Congress and the Legislature, but will not take back over the state — not until they get a lot better. Black and Hispanic incumbents will find their districts less stacked in their favor, but not disastrously so.

The bottom line will be a somewhat more competitive democracy in Florida, and incumbents somewhat more aware of the possibility of being challenged. This cannot possibly be a bad thing.

'Fair districts' for Florida is only a beginning 05/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 6:27pm]
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