SLAY THE DRAGON follows everyday people, outraged by what they see as an attack on the core democratic principle that every person’s vote should count equally. This election year, we’re joining together with grassroots partners to put an end to gerrymandering. Because this issue impacts each state differently, we’ve created a map to help you navigate how gerrymandering affects your state and community. SLAY THE DRAGON arrives on demand April 3.
What’s going on in Florida
Florida's congressional district lines are drawn by the Legislature by ordinary statute, and are subject to the Governor's veto. The Legislature can override vetoes with a two-thirds vote in each chamber. Final plans must be approved by the 2022 candidate filing deadline, which is 120 days before the 2022 primary.
Florida's state legislative lines are drawn by the Legislature by joint resolution, which are not subject to the Governor's veto. Within 15 days, these plans are sent to the state Supreme Court to ensure that they meet the state's redistricting standards. If they do not, the legislature gets a second chance to draw plans. If the state Supreme Court again finds that the plans are invalid, the Court will have 60 days to draw its own maps. Final plans must be approved by the 2022 candidate filing deadline, which is 120 days before the 2022 primary.
In addition to the federal requirements of one person, one vote and the Voting Rights Act, Florida law requires that state legislative and congressional districts be compact, contiguous, and preserve political subdivisions. As a result of the Fair Districts Amendments, intentionally favoring or disfavoring an incumbent or political party is also prohibited. The Amendments also codified VRA-type language into the Florida Constitution.
While Florida law does not require public hearings, the state held such hearings between June 20 and August 31 in the 2011 cycle. Should hearings be held again in 2021, it will likely be on a similar schedule. Additionally, public map submissions were accepted until November 1, 2011, and overall, 153 public maps were submitted.
The Voting Rights Act and the Constitution currently guarantee that minority populations should have fair opportunities to elect representatives. But when a community is packed to be 50% or more of the voting-eligible population of a district, it may miss opportunities in neighboring districts. Fair districting therefore requires careful attention to how the lines are drawn.
Despite constitutional prohibitions, unified party control of Florida's government may lead to an increased risk of partisan and racial gerrymandering. In the post-2010 cycle, the principal avenue for fair districts in Florida was the state Supreme Court – and this route was partially successful in 2011. In 2021, however, the Court’s composition will be very different. Therefore, flipping one of the state legislative chambers to create split control over the process likely presents the best opportunity for reform.
During the review of state legislative districts by the state Supreme Court in 2012, it ordered that eight state Senate districts be redrawn because of inferred partisan intent. This case was Florida's first under its Fair Districts Amendments. A few weeks later, the Legislature adopted a new Senate plan that was upheld by the Court.
In 2014, plaintiffs challenged the validity of the 2012 congressional plan for a multitude of reasons, including partisan intent, incumbent protection, and minority packing. A final ruling was delayed due to disputes about evidence and discovery, but eventually, two districts were ordered redrawn. The Legislature drew a remedial plan, which was approved by the lower court.
On appeal, however, the state Supreme Court held that the trial court improperly reviewed the initial challenge and ordered that eight districts, rather than two, be redrawn. Five of these showed partisan intent while three were noncompact or failed to following political and geographic boundaries. The Legislature failed to enact a remedial plan, so in late 2015, the state Supreme Court approved a map that had been adopted by the trial court.
Following this holding, the state Senate voluntarily offered to redraw its previously revised map, believing that it violated the law in a way similar to the congressional one. A special session of the Legislature failed to produce a new Senate map, and the court adopted one of the plaintiffs' maps.
Based upon a recent estimate of congressional seat changes following the 2020 census, Florida is estimated to gain two congressional seats.
- In terms of representation, an unfairly drawn plan can have three to six times the effect of even the worst Census undercount. Therefore additional steps are necessary to increase the likelihood of a plan that is responsive to voters.
Support bills and initiatives that build upon the reform movement started last cycle with the Fair Districts Amendments.
One concrete action is to support a ballot initiative to Florida's ballot to create an independent citizens' redistricting commission. This will prevent gerrymanders from being committed in the first place.
Extreme plans can favor one party or the other, or severely hinder the representation of racial and ethnic communities.
One remedy is to make sure that public input is as effective as possible through data and technology (for instance, using public input tools such as Representable.org), so that legislators will have communities of interest easily available to them.
To that end, a bill has been introduced (SB252) to expand public access to draft plans by revising a section of Florida’s public records law.
Another remedy is to achieve split-party control of government. Florida currently has single-party government under Republicans.
In the 2020 election, this can be done in the 2020 election by changing 14 state House seats. The win margins in the 14 closest Republican-won seats in 2018 averaged about 2,100 votes.
As a comparison, Amendment 4 potentially restores voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians - an average of 12,000 per House district.
In 2021, use public comment to identify communities of interest.