Florida Redistricting: Balancing State & Federal Law
by Boardroom Brief Staff on October 06, 2011
Every 10 years, Florida redraws its legislative and congressional districts to reflect the changes in population. This go around, the Florida House of Representatives made it easier than ever before for any individual to participate in the process. They created a website that enables residents to submit their own maps for consideration by the redistricting committees. Recently, state legislators wrapped up a statewide tour of redistricting hearings where local residents were able to voice their opinions and make recommendations to the redistricting committees. Nearly 75 individuals have already submitted their redistricting recommendations to officials using the online tool. Residents have until Nov. 1 to submit maps on how to draw Florida’s 27 congressional districts. Public participation has played an integral role in the redistricting process thus far; however, there are several challenges that the redistricting committees have to overcome in the next few months.
Florida is eligible for two more congressional seats as a result of the 2008 census that recorded a population growth to 18.8 million residents in Florida. That presents an opportunity for the state to have larger presence in Washington and bigger impact on critical decisions being made in congress.
Although Florida gained two congressional seats, it will be challenging to draw the new districts. Last November, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved two constitutional amendments, amendments 5 and 6, which are collectively known as Fair Districts. The amendments prohibit the partisan, incumbent-protecting drawing of district lines that have long been the norm. Districts are supposed to be compact and contiguous wherever possible. The Florida House of Representatives is appealing a Miami court’s decision to uphold the Fair Districts amendment. The concern of the Florida House of Representatives is its inability to uphold the federal Voting Rights Act that requires the state to create three majority-minority districts. For example, the district currently held by Representative Corrine Brown is a thin sliver that spans across nine counties in North Florida. Her district was originally drawn to create an African-American majority-minority district.
The redistricting committees need to find a solution to drawing the districts according to federal and state law. Officials are grappling with where to begin with drawing the lines. Should they wait for the outcome of the appeal from the House of Representatives’? Should the majority-minority districts be drawn first and then siphon off the rest of the districts based on communities, or should they begin from each end of the state and work their way in? No one has an answer at this time but we’re at a critical point in the process in that the committees are beginning to review maps this month.
The Florida Legislature is set to make the final decisions on redistricting during the 2012 Legislative Session, which will begin in January rather than March as is customary. State candidates running in the 2012 election cycle are facing the biggest unknowns because they may not know what district they are running in until March or later.