Editing the Constitution: Amendments 5, 6 are a BFD

September 7, 2010

This November, Florida voters will have a chance to enact meaningful changes to a redistricting process that has historically been a gerrymandering free for all.

Amendments 5 and 6 are citizen initiatives that will enshrine fair redistricting rules into the state constitution, forcing an end to the practice of lawmakers custom designing their own voter pools.

Aside from Amendment 5 covering Legislative districts and Amendment 6 covering Congressional districts, the ballot summaries and language are identical. Here’s Amendment 5:

STANDARDS FOR LEGISLATURE TO FOLLOW IN LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING

BALLOT SUMMARY: Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Full text:

In establishing Legislative district boundaries:
(1) No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.
(2) Unless compliance with the standards in this subsection conflicts with the standards in subsection (1) or with federal law, districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.
(3) The order in which the standards within sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section are set forth shall not be read to establish any priority of one standard over the other within that subsection.

Simple. Easy to understand. Fair.

The GOP, of course, hates everything about these amendments, but they have failed in multiple attempts to derail the process, including a recent court smack down of their clumsy attempt to confuse voters with dueling amendments, and it looks like Amendments 5 and 6 will be on the ballot in November.

Fair Districts Florida needs help right now with volunteers and money. They have been fighting this fight for years and are very close to victory. A win could make a real difference. A sixty percent super majority is required for passage.

Our present system permits politicians to choose their voters instead of voters having a fair chance to choose their representatives. Legislators use sophisticated computers, voter registration data and past election returns to predict how particular voters will vote in the future. Then they choose which voters are most likely to vote for them and their party and place just enough of those voters in “safe” districts — ones they are sure they can win. Those in charge also pack large numbers of unfavorable voters in into a few districts so the unfriendly voters will have a chance to win in fewer districts.

Each district is rigged to accomplish a particular result. Districts are set up to be either Democratic or Republican and opposing party candidates do not have a chance. Only 7% of Florida’s legislative elections are really competitive. Voters do not have a real choice in selecting their representatives because the elections are rigged before they even start.

Another result is that there are rarely serious challenges to incumbents. In the last 6 years, there have been 420 elections for State Senator and State Representative. Only three incumbents have been defeated! After all, their districts are specially designed for them! With virtually certain seats, legislators have no incentive to be responsive to their constituents and they see no reason to compromise for the public good.

The races for Senate and Governor are sucking all the air out of the room right now, but Amendments 5 and 6 could be far more important for the long term health of representative democracy in Florida.

Join with organized labor, the ACLU, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, Democracia Ahora, the vast majority of Democratic politicians in the state, over 600,000 Florida voters who signed petitions to get these measures on the ballot, some moderate Republicans, and Charlie Crist to support Fair Districts Florida.

This really is a BFD.

ACTION: Support FairDistrictsFlorida.
Florida Voters: Vote YES on Amendments 5 and 6.

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