Lawmaker-backed Redistricting Amendment Headed to Voters

May 1, 2010

Alex Tiegen

Sunshine State News


Voters will be asked in November whether to support a Legislature-proposed plan for congressional and legislative redistricting.  

In a 25-14 decision, senators added to the ballot the choice of supporting a new constitutional amendment that supporters said will ensure Florida does not break any laws or disenfranchise minority voters.

The ballot choice, supported by Republicans and some Democrats,  is a response to ballot amendments 5 and 6, which were proposed by Fair Districts Florida. 

The Fair Districts amendments require, in advance of the state’s, to redraw districts after the 2010 Census. The amendments' intent is to ignore political parties and incumbents when redrawing districts and to draw compact districts.

The Legislature’s proposal, championed by Senate Reapportionment Chairman Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, is a “clarifying amendment” that ensures the state follows federal redistricting guidelines, offers equal voting opportunity to racial and language minorities, and addresses “communities of interest.” 

Supporters of the amendment said time and again that it would be impossible to follow the Fair Districts' requirements. Haridopolos said that numerous committee meetings, press conferences and discussions with Fair Districts’ backers proved it to him. History has shown that mistakes result in lawsuits and other obstacles to the state, he said.

“Theory is one thing,” he said. "Something that works is really different.”

The resolution needs to be approved by 60 percent of voters to be amended to the state Constitution; it also needs a three-fifths vote to pass the Senate  floor and the House, its previous stop. 

Niceville Republican Don Gaetz said the Fair Districts' proposals were admirable, but they conflicted with each other. He said no state would be able to follow all of the amendments’ orders without breaking the law or violating the amendments’ many requirements.

“While everything’s important, nothing’s important,” he said.

Most Democrats opposed the amendment, saying it would disenfranchise voters and be used to favor political parties.

“All Fair Districts says is, you should be able to choose your elected officials,” said Miami Beach Democrat Dan Gelber. “Not the officials choosing their voters.” 

But two African-American leaders of the Democratic party urged support of the amendment as a way to ensure that minority voters were given a voice in future elections. Sens. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, and Minority Leader Al Lawson said the state’s redistricting plan was not perfect, but it was the best option to guarantee everyone kept their vote.

Lawson said that the state would never be able to take the politics out of redistricting. The diversity and shape of the state prevent a perfect plan.

“We will never be able to get it right,” Lawson said, “because of the way Florida is designed as a peninsula.”






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