By Dominique Barba.
Redistricting refers to the process by which census data is used to redraw the lines and boundaries of electoral districts within a state to ensure that districts are substantially equal in population. This process affects districts at all levels of government-from local school boards and city councils to state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives. Florida gained two seats from the reapportionment after the 2010 census. The state population increased by 2.8 million residents, (17.6 percent.) According to the Article III, Sections 20 and 21 of the Florida Constitution state: “ No apportionment plan or (individual) district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”
For the project to begin, there are two constitutional amendments that need to be considered. Amendment # 5 (Term) and Amendment # 6 (Congress) voted for in past elections as and say that “districts cannot be drawn in a way that diminishes the ability of minorities to elect Representatives of their choice”. These two amendments were prompted by Fair Districts Now, and requite districts that, where possible, be continuous and compact, taking into account the existing municipal boundaries. These amendments are being challenged by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) and Corrine Brown (D), who believe that they violate the Voting Rights Act and “represents an impermissible effort by Florida to limit the discretion directly delegated by the United States Constitution to the Florida Legislature.” They filed suit on November 3, 2010.
Once the redistricting committees were formed in the House and the Senate, a series of public meetings to hear the views of minorities. There were 26 hearings, the last six occurred between Monday August 15 and Thursday 18. The cities chosen were Stuart, Boca Raton, Davie, Miami,South Miami and Key West.
Doral Family Journal was present at the hearings in Miami (Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus) and South Miami (FIU College of law) seen that there is a clear interest from the community to have a clean electoral process and above all, fair. Both meetings counted with a high participation of members of the Haitian American community that called for a congressional seat to lead to a representative of their choice. The Hispanic population, in turn asked to preserve the existing districts, where they are the majority, while recommending creating new ones. State Representative Erik Fresen told us how pleased he was to give the opportunity to the millions of Florida voters to participate through their opinions, which were to be respected and considered.
City of Doral, which can seem to be a small, young city, saw several of its residents attending meetings, giving us a positive perception of the situation.
Among them, Councilman Pete Cabrera, was present in the meetings and said among others things:
“To be truly united as a nation we must understand, embrace, and represent the needs of each of these diverse groups. Without proper representation both the riches and needs of each of these groups will be lost. A proper representation will united rather than divide. So it is more than about just following the law, it is about building stronger communities” said Councilman Cabrera. “It is also important that the district be drawn in a manner that provides proper representation for each area beyond the needs of a minority, but also the general needs of area also be properly represented”… “Obviously the needs of each of communities is very diverse so it makes it very challenging for the representative of that district to completely serve the needs of each area they represent”
Too, was at the meeting, the founder of Rotary Club Doral, Felipe Madrigal and Susie Castillo (Mayor’s Assistant City of Doral) who gave us valuable information to prepare this note.
Given the complexity of the process, there are many questions constantly arising, Doral Family journal was able to count on the aid of lawyer Elizabeth Pines, an expert in immigration processes and member of the Association of Women Voters, who very kindly answered these questions:
DFJ: You asked the committee to honor 3 commitments; would you specify?
Dr. Pines: “I asked the Redistricting Committee to commit to an accelerated timeline:
1. Adopt a rule requiring all maps to be filed by October 3, 2011. This is 30 days after completion of the “Public Hearings”. The Legislators should have plenty of time to come up with their proposed maps by this time.
2. Adopt a rule requiring all committee action and reviews on redistricting plans be completed by the end of 2011, allowing sufficient time for public review and comment, and
3. Adopt a rule requiring that all plans be voted on during the first week of the 2012 Session, this is no later than January 13, 2012. This would allow for new candidates to know their districts and campaign accordingly. Uncertainty as to what a District will look like helps incumbents because incumbents are already known to the voters and can raise money and challengers or new candidates would be at a disadvantage.
DFJ: Why the League of Women Voters is against the lawsuit made by Corrine Brown and Mario Diaz Balart?
Dr. Pines: Amendment (5 and) 6 passed by 63% of Florida voters and is now part of our Constitution, which Legislators have pledged to support and defend. In addition: The House and Senate unsuccessfully fought Supreme Court approval of the amendments for the ballot in 2008. They held over 30 hours of committee meetings in 2009 and 2010 trying unsuccessfully to find fault with the amendments using lawyers from Speaker Cannon’s former firm who were paid $300-per-hour. They tried to fight it again in 2010 arguing unsuccessfully in court that the amendments should be stricken from the ballot. They tried (unsuccessfully) to confuse voters by placing Amendment 7 on the ballot with purposefully misleading language. Leaders convinced the Governor to withdraw his predecessor’s preclearance application from the Justice Department. It took a lawsuit to get them to reapply.
The Florida House is using taxpayer money to attack and invalidate a provision of our state constitution that was supported by 63% of Florida voters. It is spending our money to join a lawsuit (filed by Representatives Brown and Diaz Balart) asking the court to strike Amendment 6 from the Florida Constitution. Secretary of State Kurt Browning is the defendant in that case. So Florida taxpayers are now paying to sue and defend the same lawsuit.
All of this money is being spent while teachers are being fired, social services are being cut, and not a single job is being created. Yet, the House and Senate have set aside upwards of $30 million to avoid the Fair Districts standards and promote their version of a redistricting plan.
DFJ: What are your impressions about the “Redistricting 2012” in Florida? Do you think this project will benefit all the Florida Voters?
I trust the Florida Legislators after these Public Hearings will have listened to Floridians. Our message has been loud and clear throughout the State: drop the lawsuit, and commit to drawing maps in accordance to our Constitution, which include amendments 5 and 6 as they are, by the first week of session 2012.