Every 10 years, elected leaders in Florida are tasked with redrawing jurisdictional boundaries for local, state, and federal elections to reflect the state’s population shifts. Unfortunately, history has shown that politicians sometimes manipulate redistricting to expand or protect their own power — often to the detriment of the minority political party, marginalized populations, and often, Black and brown communities.
The impact of drawing unfair maps — often referred to as gerrymandering — lasts an entire decade, because nearly all state and local decisions on health care, jobs, the environment and education are impacted by this process.
In Florida, thanks to an overwhelming vote in 2012, we have constitutional amendments which mandate “Fair Districts” for state legislative and congressional seats. These clearly outline that no political party or candidate be favored and that minorities be given every opportunity to select a representative of their choice if certain criteria are met. There is also a prohibition against decreasing minority representation in the redistricting process.
With these guardrails in place, many would assume that the state Legislature’s 2022 redistricting process would have gone off without a hitch. Unfortunately, that did not prove to be true.
As state legislators configured new congressional districts, Gov. Ron DeSantis chose to insert himself into the process. Florida’s Constitution provides no official role for the governor in the redistricting process outside of the option to veto a congressional map, and this is the first time in memory that a Florida governor has inserted himself into the process.
The governor’s choice to try to influence the legislative process at a minimum created an appearance of partisan intent. And his proposals lessened Black congressional representation while clearly benefiting his own political party.
Before the governor’s actions, the Florida Senate and the House of Representatives somewhat attempted to comply with much of the governing law in the creation of their maps. On the other hand, the governor’s proposed maps appeared to be unconstitutional even at a glance.
In reaction to the governor’s recommendations, the Legislature created and passed a congressional map with a first-choice map and a backup map if the first choice is struck down by a court. This submission of two map choices attempted to account for both the governor’s and the Legislature’s proposals. While the passed congressional maps’ constitutionality has yet to be determined, it is the League of Women Voters’ belief that the Legislature and governor could have done more to draw lines that provided additional opportunities for Black and Hispanic voters to elect representatives of their choice to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Despite the Legislature’s efforts, the governor has vowed to veto the legislatively approved work product. This leaves districts, candidates, Supervisors of Elections and voters in limbo with no clear path towards a viable compromise or overall solution.
This move to unduly influence a fair redistricting process, matched with the recent passage of laws that make voting more difficult, contributes to what amounts to a chipping away of the democracy we all cherish and need.
The League of Women Voters of Florida continues to stand against any moves that limit the voices of all voters, including minorities. Florida’s voters must familiarize themselves with those who represent their communities in elected office to better hold them accountable. It is crucial to stay up to date on new candidates, campaigns and election dates. This can be done by engaging with organizations centered around voter education like the League of Women Voters or the office of your local Supervisor of Elections.
Regardless of how this redistricting process turns out, it is more important than ever that voters let their voices be heard at the ballot box, despite the repeated attempts to stifle them.
Cecile M. Scoon is the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida and an owner and managing principal of Peters & Scoon Attorneys at Law.