I had forgotten about the amendments I voted for back in 2010. Along with 60 percent of Floridian voters, I had enthusiastically said yes to two constitutional amendments designed to stop Republican legislators from drawing those weird looking electoral districts that keep them in power. Like so many other efforts to address the hanky panky in our state’s democratic processes, the amendment was taken with a grain of salt by the Good Ole Boys in Tallahassee.
Sure, they would draw the electoral maps more fairly (wink, wink). Sure, the process would be transparent and democratic (nudge, nudge). After all, who would know? They’ve been fooling all of the people all of the time for generations, they would just do it again one more time.
They reckoned without the Florida League of Women Voters.
The fight against gerrymandering has been the League’s Holy Grail for the past 70 years – ever since the organization was formed. And they weren’t about to let the Legislature skirt the constitutional amendment they had worked so hard to get passed. Joined by other civic minded groups such as Common Cause, the League sued.
And what do you know? They won!
A Florida judge ruled Thursday that the Good Ole Boys broke the law. And he had some harsh words for their shenanigans.
Judge Terry Lewis (above) found that Republican operatives and consultants conspired to circumvent the requirements of the amendment. And he added:
What is clear to me from the evidence … is that this group of Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process. They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process.
The judge said two of Florida’s 27 congressional districts (see map above) had been drawn to benefit the Republican Party and ordered them redrawn. The legislature is expected to appeal the ruling, and the Good Ole Boys could still get their way. After all, they own pretty much everything in Old Florida, including the justice system (not in South Florida, of course, where Cubans and Jamaicans and all kinds of other immigrants live).
And there’s the United States Supreme Court. Those justices have made it crystal clear where their sympathies lie. And it’s not with the League or the Democrats – or the people.
But, at least, the ruling puts the issue in the spotlight and sets a precedent that could have widespread repercussions.
Both Republicans and Democrats have engaged in gerrymandering for decades. And after they swept the state legislatures in 2010, Republicans were in a position to redraw congressional maps based on demographics in that year’s census. They drew the maps in such a way that minority areas were grouped together in single districts. That left a bunch of sparsely populated white districts and a few densely populated minority districts.
This is one reason Republicans won the House in 2012 even though Democrats got 1.4 million more votes than the GOP candidates.
Now, the ugly gerrymandering practice is under legal scrutiny. And who knows where that could lead?
There’s a similar lawsuit pending in North Carolina. And 21 U.S. states have redistricting commissions,with13 of those states relying on citizens commissions exclusively to draw electoral district lines. A 14th state, Iowa, uses a process that depends on neither the state Legislature nor an independent redistricting commission to draw the districts.
Could this trend be gathering momentum? Could this be the beginning of the end of the gerrymandering plague? Let’s hope so.