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Florida redistricting initiative from FairDistrict.org makes 2010 ballot

TALLAHASSEE — The liberal-leaning Fair Districts initiative that would diminish the Legislature's power to draw political districts will be on the 2010 ballot, after Fair Districts organizers gathered the requisite 676,811 signatures to get the measure before voters.

The Florida Division of Elections confirmed Friday that it has verified the signatures, making Fair Districts the second citizens' initiative to make the 2010 ballot. It was an expensive feat: Since 2006, FairDistricts.org has raised and spent about $3.2 million to get the initiative before voters.

"I am so happy that the voters of Florida will finally have the opportunity to vote to put these fairness standards in the Florida Constitution," said Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation. "These amendments provide new protections for all voters and especially minorities."

Redistricting is required every decade to reflect population changes, and it's an inherently political process. Lawmakers can effectively choose their voter pool — in ways that help guarantee re-election.

If 60 percent of voters approve the Fair Districts initiative in November, it would dramatically change the factors legislators have to consider when drawing new districts. There are now just three guidelines: that they be compact, contiguous and reflect "communities of interest," including minority neighborhoods.

The initiative would add six more standards, including provisions that state politicians cannot draw districts to favor themselves or their parties; and they must make the districts "compact and community based." The new districts also could not "favor" or "disfavor" minorities.

The selling point of the initiative: The state is largely Democratic, yet the Legislature is largely Republican due to crafty legislative line-drawing.

"These critical reforms will finally end the legalized conflict of interest that allows legislators to design their districts and those of Congress for their own political purposes," said supporter Bob Milligan, state comptroller during the Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush administrations.

The Republicans' retort: We win because we have better candidates.

According to the latest voter registration numbers, the state is 35.8 percent Republicans, 42 percent Democrats and 19 percent independent. Yet 63 percent of the state House and 65 percent of the state Senate is Republican.

Critics, including future Senate President Mike Haridopolos and future House Speaker Dean Cannon, say the nine standards conflict with each other and would make drawing voter districts an impossible task that would inevitably draw expensive legal challenges. And they worry that the provisions would result in a loss of the gains that minorities have made in Congress, the state Senate and the state House over the past two decades.

"Everything we've heard says this amendment would reduce minority representation," said Cannon, R-Winter Park. "We owe it to our constituents to protect the legacy of minority representation that they fought for."

The initiative proposes two constitutional amendments, one affecting the legislative districts and the other affecting congressional districts.

In June, Florida Hometown Democracy got the first citizens' initiative on the 2010 ballot. It would give voters more say on how their communities grow.

Times/Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Lee Logan contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at scolavecchio@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Florida redistricting initiative from FairDistrict.org makes 2010 ballot 01/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 11:16pm]
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