The League of Women Voters was founded more than 100 years ago to ensure voting rights for all citizens, particularly women. Today, the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVFL) and its member leagues, including the League of Women Voters Citrus County, continue to prioritize voting issues, including redistricting.
This article addresses basic questions about redistricting and its impact on citizens.
What is redistricting and why is it done?
Redistricting is the redrawing of boundaries of electoral districts on a map to allocate representation in federal and state legislatures
Redistricting is done every 10 years following the U.S. Census. After the Census, the number of representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state is recalculated based on new population data.
Because Florida’s population has grown by 2.9 million, Florida will move from 27 to 28 representatives. The Florida Legislature will redraw current district lines to add the new congressional district.
The legislature will also redraw lines for Florida’s 40 state Senate seats and 120 state House seats.
What is gerrymandering?
Redistricting is often influenced by “gerrymandering.”
Gerrymandering is the politically motivated manipulation of district boundaries to deliberately disadvantage a group of voters based on their party affiliation or race. It’s used by the party in power to retain power and to influence who is elected. Rather than voters choosing their representatives, gerrymandering empowers politicians to choose their voters. Gerrymandered districts are often oddly shaped to include some voters or to exclude other voters.
What are Florida’s Fair Districts amendments?
Fortunately, Florida now has guardrails in place to help ensure fair redistricting. A citizen’s initiative in 2010, seeking to reform the way districts are drawn, resulted in the passage of two amendments to the Florida Constitution. These “Fair District” amendments, written with input from LWV and other groups, passed with more than 62% of the vote.
The Fair Districts provisions require that district lines: not be drawn to favor one political party, not be drawn to harm voting power of racial or language minorities, and be contiguous. In addition, if possible, and so long as it does not violate the mandatory requirements above, the districts should: be compact, take into account jurisdictional lines, and take into account geographical boundaries.
Even after the Fair District amendments were enacted, party operatives continued to practice gerrymandering. In 2012, LWVFL, with a coalition of civil rights groups. filed two lawsuits in response to this gerrymandering, and won. During years of litigation, the state legislature spent $11 million of taxpayer dollars unsuccessfully defending its illegally drawn district maps.
In 2015, the courts approved new, fairly balanced Congressional district maps drawn by LWVFL and its partners.
What’s happening with redistricting in Florida?
The Florida Senate is now actively engaged with redistricting. Interim committees will continue meeting into December, proposing maps and discussing their fairness. The new district boundaries must be completed in the 2022 legislative session, which begins Jan. 11 and ends March 11. LWVF encourages public participation in the process and urges the Legislature to conduct redistricting in an open, transparent, interactive, and constitutionally-compliant manner.
How can citizens communicate their ideas on redistricting to legislators?
In past years, the Florida Legislature has conducted public meetings to gather citizen input on redistricting. This year, there will be no public hearings. Instead, the Legislature has created a portal for community input, www.FloridaRedistricting.gov.
LWVFL has attended redistricting hearings and has met with Redistricting Committee Chair Senator Rodrigues. They have learned the following about citizens communicating about the maps:
The best way for citizens to communicate with legislators is to directly contact a member of one of the redistricting committees listed on the portal to share their ideas and concerns. Although citizens are encouraged to place their comments about maps into the portal, they should also share their comments with a committee member, as only those comments picked and championed by these legislators will be considered. Timely action is important.
Do citizens have to submit whole maps in the portal?
No. Citizens can submit comments and partial maps in the portal, but they should also speak directly to members of the redistricting committees to be sure that the map or comments are brought forward for consideration. Once the maps are drawn and submitted to the entire legislature in January session, amendments suggested by citizens to the proposed maps will require a map of the entire state.
Why does redistricting matter?
We all want our right to vote to be protected, and our communities to be represented fairly. The maps that are being drawn now will impact our voting power for the next 10 years. Redistricting also impacts how resources for health care, jobs, education, infrastructure, the environment, and other needs are distributed.
LWVFL encourages informed, active participation in government. We work to increase understanding of major policy issues, and advocate for legislative changes and policies for the public good. LWV remains nonpartisan, never endorsing or opposing political parties or candidates. Find us at www.lwvfl.org or www.lwvcitrus.org.
Abby Madeiros and Rosemary Nilles are the president and board member, respectively, of the League of Women Voters of Citrus County (LWVCC). The League of Women Voters Florida (LWVFL) thanks LWVCC for spearheading and working on this article with LWVFL.
Guest Column l From the lens of the League: Redistricting in Florida