While last week wasn’t the greatest for Democrats in the State of Florida, there was one ray of sunshine that sneaked its way through the clouds. Amendments 5 and 6 passed, which, we hope, will clear the way for an equal State Legislature. But even with these laws passed, I am wondering if, in the end, they will amount to anything.
First of all, we hear about all of the lawsuits that are being filed against these amendments. And while those might be successful, they also might fail. So, in all honesty, we really don’t know where this thing is going in the courts.
But what if the lawsuits fail, and this is the new law of the land? To me, there seems to be some fundamental problems with the current amendments as written. Still, I am not a Constitutional attorney or scholar, so I really could be totally off base on this one. But here we go anyway.
Here are the amendments as written. I only put up Amendment 5, because 6 is almost exactly identical:
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.
The first question I have is how can we create legislative districts that will prevent “intent to favor or disfavor a political party”? Is the law stating that we need to create 120 House districts that are evenly split down party lines? If so, how will be able to manage that? The only way that I can see us managing that is by having boundaries that resemble the 3rd Congressional District.
But wait, we can’t do that either. Why? Well, because of another line in the second section of the amendment which says “districts shall be compact.”
Therefore, here is my question…how can you create a compact district that is basically split along partisan lines? I have yet to be able to find an answer on this question.
So, lets say I live in North Miami, where there is a large African-American population that is, presumably, Democratic. Where is the legislature going to find Republican votes in that geographical area that will not “favor a political party”? They aren’t going to find them in the surrounding areas. The only place that they would be able to find them (in order for the district to comply to the “intent to favor or disfavor a political party”) is by expanding the district outside its current geographical location, thus making it look like those “snake districts” that most of us hate.
Doing this will break that part in section two that states “districts shall be compact.” So, which one is it?
But there is a word in the first line that might just clear this whole thing up. Let me restate the line again…”No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”
If all 120 districts in the House (and 40 in the Senate) cannot be drawn specifically with equal representation by both parties, it seems to me (from this wording) that the entire “apportionment plan” can be drawn evenly. Therefore, I would assume, that this would be 60 Democratic and 60 Republican House seats along with 20 Democratic and Republican Senate seats.
That sound like it is easily obtainable. And with the current voter registration statistics, it could be. But wait…should we really be going on voter registration statistics?
One argument that I have always had surrounding reapportionment has been the fairness of plans. The way that Democrats and Republicans seem to handle this issue seems to be very different.
On one hand, it seems like Democrats base their plans on voter registration and minority representation. The second part of that plan I highly favor.
Republicans, on the other hand, seem to base their plans not on voter registration, but on electoral performance.
Therefore, let’s go back in time and look at when the current Florida House districts were drawn. And, specifically, let us look at House District 12, which we have all the stats for here, thanks to the good people at the Florida House of Representatives.
First of all, the seat is held by a Republican. And since the seat was created for the 2002 election, it has only been held by a Republican. And that Republican, Janet Adkins, has never had a Democratic opponent.
If you look at the voter registration statistics, in 2000, Democrats were 60% of the registered voters, while Republicans were only 31%. Therefore, Republicans would argue that this is a “Democratic-drawn district.”
But if you look at how it performed “electorally”, it is a much different story. Dubya won the district in 2000 68% to 30% for Al Gore. US Senate race, McCollum wins over Nelson 60% to 40%. Tom Gallagher beats John Cosgrove 71% to 29%. Crist 64%, Sheldon 36%…Yes, there is a trend.
Therefore, while this district has a 29% voter registration advantage for the Democrats, electorally, it has a nearly a 30% electoral advantage for the Republicans.
So, what is this district…Democratic or Republican? Both sides can argue that it is for the other party. But, in my opinion, Republicans have easily won this district on all level and is, therefore, a Republican district.
If Democrats want to draw districts, lets look on electoral performance instead of registered voters. That is the Republican trap, and it works every time.
Still, while the idea of Amendments 5 and 6 sound great, I don’t know how well it would be enforced. Again, Republicans can just create district using electoral history, while stating that these districts are “fair” because they have an equal amount of Democrats on each side.
The biggest issue, though, is what the courts consider “fair”. It will be an interesting process. But if the Republicans continue to pull the wool over the Democrats’ eyes (like they have in the past), the next 10 years won’t be any different.
While these amendments sound good in theory, I think they will be nearly impossible to enforce, if they plan on making “fair districts”. In addition, a lot of the wording in these two amendments seem extremely vague.
But I do have hope.