Friday, July 10, 2015

Killing the Gerrymander: Battles Won, But the War Goes On

The Florida Supreme Court just now issued a strong rebuke to the gerrymandered district maps the Republican-controlled state legislature drew up for this decade.  Via the Tampa Bay Times:

In the historic 5-2 ruling, the court not only ruled the maps were the product of an unconstitutional political gerrymandering, it signaled its deep distrust of lawmakers and provided detailed instructions on how to repair the flawed map in time for the 2016 election.
Writing for the majority, Justice Barbara Pariente said the court found that the initial maps drawn by state lawmakers "were tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."
"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair District amendment and sought fair representation where the Legislature didn't pick their voters," said David King, lead attorney for the League of Women Voters and the coalition of voter groups that brought the challenge.


Even though the Court is ordering just 8 of the 27 districts redrawn, the connectivity of district borders make it clear all the neighboring districts - up to 14 - will change, so that almost the entire map should get redrawn in order to fill a core requirement of districts being evenly populated.

The key one - and the one pretty much every court has railed against - will be that hideous 5th District that stretches through TEN counties and three (maybe four) separate major cities.  It's so infamous it's been one of the Top 10 Gerrymander examples for the Washington Post this decade:

Take Florida’s infamous 5th Congressional District, for example. It runs from near Jacksonville in the north, hooks east for a few miles, then west for a few miles, narrows to the width of an interstate highway for a while, cuts west all the way over to Gainesville, then swivels back east and southeast, finally arriving at Orlando, a distance of about 140 miles, sweeping in black neighborhoods along the way in order to create a “minority-majority” district.

It’s been  described by a federal judge as “visually not compact,” “bizarrely shaped” and defying “traditional political boundaries” with what critics called “finger like extensions,” “narrow and bizarrely shaped tentacles” and “hook-like shapes.” It resembles no known species or geometric form. It does look an awful lot like the Potomac River from the air, however.
The 5th was recently ranked by the Post’s Christopher Ingraham as one of “America’s most gerrymandered” congressional districts.

You know me.  I've railed against the bad maps for years now.  I've been hoping this day would come: a major decision where it's spelled out in as harsh a wording as possible how wrong the state legislature and Florida Republicans were.  Back to the Times (different report):

In siding with a coalition of Democrat-backed voter groups, the court majority concluded that lawmakers violated the Fair District amendments to the Florida Constitution. The amendments were approved in 2010 by more than 63 percent of voters — over the objections of the Republican-controlled Legislature — to prohibit lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favor incumbents or political parties.
The court gave the Legislature 100 days to meet in special session to complete a new map, and ordered the trial court to issue an order that opens the door for it to review the final product...

That last bit means there is a level of accountability here: having the trial court get final say is telling the Republican legislators they can't just shove out a map with nonexistent tweaks and call it a day.  But I have no illusions here: the Republicans in charge of the map-making are going to do everything they can to get away with as much game-rigging as possible.

Here's the thing. Statistically, the Republicans have fewer registered voters than Democrats: 4.1 million Republican to 4.5 million Democrat.  Throw in the 2.2 million NPA (No-Party-Affiliate plus third parties) and we ought to be seeing representation closer to 50-50 which party has advantage among the Congressional districts (and maybe, one or two NPA-heavy).  Instead, there's a 17-to-10 GOP-over-Dem count, about 62 percent control of districts: far too many of them crafted to be "safe" - that is, not worth the effort to challenge - for the Party-favored incumbents (which also applies to the incumbents of the party being blocked: those incumbents also prefer the safety of a gerrymander in order to keep their cushy six-figure job plus benefits, even as the needs of their party faithful suffer).

If this Supreme Court ruling can shake up the Congressional - and state legislature districts, I'm worried we're not hearing anything about those rigged distasters - districts we may well get a fair and just election working.  We ought to see districts genuinely reflecting the overall voter identity of Florida.  We may well see - still hoping for it - one or more Open districts where neither major party dominates.  Forcing both parties to moderate their positions and run candidates not for purity of ideology - what "safe" districts invoke to the detriment of all - but to honestly serve the demands and interests of those districts.

We may yet get improved voter turnout.  When people have real challenges, real reasons to make a choice between potential candidates, when they are openly courted for the correct reasons rather than the dogma a safe incumbent embraces - something we see with Presidential election cycles because things ARE at stake in such a choice - the voters will see they have a reason to vote, and would do so in great numbers.  Which is what we're supposed to get in a democratic republic form of government.

Time - as always - to kill these gerrymanders.

We'll see what the map looks like in 100 days.

1 comment:

dinthebeast said...

Good luck. We went to an independent board to draw up our districts in California back in 2010. As a Democrat in a heavily Democratic state, I might have lost a couple of districts in the process (and California Republicans can be especially vile) but I voted for it anyway, for all of the reasons you covered in your excellent post.

-Doug in Oakland