Florida’s Path to Fair Maps

By Katie Vicsik, Florida State Director

Fair Districts Amendments & Florida Redistricting Process

In 2010, the Fair Districts Amendments were approved by 63% of voters with the aim to stop partisan gerrymandering. If it were not for the litigation that ensued after the 2012 redistricting cycle, the public would have been fooled into thinking their elected officials had followed the law. Instead, it was revealed that the 2012 process was a sham, with maps drawn by partisan political operatives in backrooms that produced boundaries allowing politicians to pick their voters.

Ultimately, some of the congressional and state senate districts were invalidated by the courts for constituting an intentional partisan gerrymander. In one opinion, a judge wrote that the Republican legislators who oversaw the process “made a mockery” of the legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process. It took years of litigation, and multiple election cycles, before these gerrymandered maps were redrawn to comply with the Fair Districts amendments.

Where to start the 2022 Process?

In order for Florida to have fair maps, the legislature must build on the successful implementation of the Fair Districts Amendments, and the litigation to enforce those amendments, that came out of the last redistricting cycle. This is why All On The Line is calling for the Congressional and state Senate maps to have minimal changes, particularly for districts that were ordered to be redrawn to comply with the Fair Districts criteria. The 2022 new Congressional and Senate maps should not start from scratch, and the current districts should be used as a baseline to begin new maps.

We must also remember that the state maps have different histories. The state house maps did not go through the same litigation process and should therefore not be assumed to comply with the Fair Districts constitutional provisions. In fact, the state house map currently packs communities — when map-drawers concentrate a particular set of voters into districts in a way that dilutes their voting power throughout the rest of the state — in central Florida and Tampa Bay, as well as the Miami and Palm Beach coastal districts. It also splits Sanford across two districts;this community should remain whole under one house district. Because of these manipulations, the current map should not be used as a baseline to draw the new 2022 maps.

Hearing directly from communities impacted by the map drawing process will also be critical in helping to shape all maps, especially the state House maps that should start from a blank slate. So far, the legislature has closed the public out of the redistricting process, leaving input opportunities to a website and limiting verbal input from Floridians — who currently have to drive to Tallahassee during business hours and are forced to choose between multiple committee and subcommittee meetings on different days of the week. In order to have fair maps in Florida, we have to start by listening to communities before the maps are drafted, as well as after, so all Floridians’ voices are heard.

Importance of Benchmark Maps for Congressional and State Senate Maps

The concept of using benchmark maps to start the map making process is not new. Republican map drawers on the redistricting and reapportionment committees, however, have consistently pushed a message that our state has grown so much that adhering to benchmark maps isn’t necessary, and that those maps were drawn from data that is now over 10 years old. In fact, the Senate Reapportionment Committee went so far as to announce that maps should be drafted to draw districts “without regard to the preservation of existing district boundaries.” This decision undermines the recent litigation history of these maps, undermines the $11 million dollars of taxpayer money spent on litigating these rigged maps, and undermines reforms that began to restore the representation of Florida voters who, for years, cast their ballots in districts that had been drawn to predetermine the outcome of their votes. There is no reason to draw maps without regard to this recent litigation history. These current maps, deemed constitutional by the Florida Supreme Court and recently enacted before the 2016 elections, have proven to be competitive maps. Maps where districts can swing to either political party in any given election — producing candidates who moderate their positions to represent their districts rather than pulling to the extremes — is just the starting place. We’d expect our elected officials to be relieved to start map drawing from this solid foundation.

The state Senate maps can easily be used as a baseline and have minimal changes around the current district boundaries. This also holds true for the congressional map, even with the increase of the number of congressional seats by one, to 28 seats for the 2022 maps. Map drawers can follow these principles for the congressional map to do that:

  • Minimal changes in north Florida, Orange County, Miami/Palm Beach, and around districts that were subject to litigation such as the current 5th congressional district.
  • The Tampa Bay area can be largely kept as it is in the current congressional map. The communities of St. Pete and Tampa should be kept separate in order to reduce splitting counties (as the Fair Districts amendments call for) and to also maintain individual representation for these distinct metropolitan areas.
  • Orange County can also be kept in a similar configuration as the current congressional map. Placing these Orange County communities in the same district with faraway communities is a clear sign of cracking — in other words splitting up communities to dilute their votes. The map passed in 2012 split Orange County between five districts with one district extending up to Jacksonville before the map was struck down by the courts. No similar plan should not be repeated this time.
  • The current 5th (Duval to Leon Counties), 20th (Palm Beach and Broward Counties) and 24th (Miami-Dade and Broward Counties) congressional districts are Black opportunity districts and should generally maintain their current configurations.

All eyes are going to be on the I-4 corridor due to population growth, where it seems certain the new Congressional district will land. This is especially true in Congressional District 9 as this district had the largest population growth in the country, specifically with Latino voters who share a common set of issues affected by public policy. It will be critical to ensure this growing population isn’t used as political pawns by Republicans to gerrymander central Florida. By balancing the population growth between districts in central Florida, each district’s core constituencies can be maintained, while also making sure the growing Latino community, largely comprised of Puerto Rican voters, is represented.

As outlined above, it is possible to account for Florida’s population changes, recent litigation history, and still have minimal changes to our Congressional and state Senate maps. Let’s not be fooled again by map makers who pledge transparency, fairness and an open process who are already bringing disingenuous arguments to the table and setting the stage for partisan attempts to pick their voters.