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Redistricting Reform on November Ballot

by Brian Bennett // Published October 29, 2010

Redistricting is required in all fifty states after the 2010 census results are received. This data gives the state legislatures the information it needs to draw the lines in their states. These numbers will usually not be released until either early in 2011. States then will conduct redistricting procedures in 2011 in time for the 2011 state legislative elections and in 2012 elections across the country.  However, in two states the battle for redistricting is starting early. Florida and California have issues on the ballot next week which would dramatically alter congressional and state redistricting in two of our largest states.

 FLORIDA-AMENDMENTS 5 & 6

According to the Florida Secretary of State- Available Here.  Amendments 5 & 6 on the ballot in Florida are complementary measures that would impose standards on the legislature for redistricting the state. Amendment 5 applies to standards that must be followed in redistricting for the Florida Legislature and Amendment 6 applies to standards imposed for Congressional redistricting. The standards are the same in both Amendments, which include: no favoring or disfavoring of political parties, districts cannot be drawn with the intent to deny or abridge equal opportunity, and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.  Florida law requires that these amendments receive at least 60% of the vote to become law.

The main proponent of this bill (and its sponsor) is Fair Districts Florida(visit here)  , a coalition made up of such organizations  as the League of Women Voters , AARP, Florida Association of Counties and the NAACP. Fair Districts Florida argue that that this Amendment is necessary so that incumbent politicians do not draw lines in backroom dealings that will only result in their own re-election.  They cite the abnormally high re-election rate of Florida politicians for their support behind this bill.

Opponents of these Amendments include the Chamber of Commerce and the James Madison Institute Here  that stress the potential of increased litigation due to the amendment. Some  racial minorities like Congresswoman Corrine Brown Article Here  express concern that the new redistricting standards would be detrimental to racial minorities by reducing the number of majority-minority districts.

The bill is supported by every major newspaper in the state of Florida Here  But the  combination of some partisan reactions to the amendments (Republicans currently hold 18 of the state’s 25 congressional districts and have firm control of the state legislature, although this year’s governor’s race could be won by either majority party) and the 60% vote required for enactment make the outcome uncertain

CALIFORNIA PROPOSITIONS 20 & 27

In 2008, California passed Proposition 11 which mandated creation of the California Citizens Redistricting Committee. Proposition 11 was designed to give ordinary citizens the opportunity to redistrict the California Legislature for the next ten years. The state is well on its way to selecting the citizens commission that will be charged with drawing lines next year 

On November 2, the voters will have to opportunity to speak on two drastically different ballot measures concerning this Commission. Proposition 20 would extend the power of the Citizens Redistricting Committee by giving them power to draw Congressional districts as well, while Proposition 27 would eliminate the redistricting Commission entirely.  There has been no polling available on these measures, and debate about them has been largely drowned out by the high-profile and expensive campaigns for governor, U.S. Senator and other controversial ballot measures.

Supporters of Proposition 20 to extend redistricting reform to congressional districts include AARP, California Chamber of Commerce, and the California State Conference NAACP  They argue that passage will ensure that the politicians will not draw safe districts for themselves, and will ensure more transparency in the process. Passage of the Proposition will also guarantee less back room deals on redistricting, and hold politicians accountable for their actions.

Opponents of Proposition 20 include The League of Woman Voters, California Firefighters Association, and the California Teachers Association. The League of women Voters argues in its resource page on the amendment Link here  that Proposition 20 is premature. Other opponents argue that it wastes taxpayer money, encourages segregation by income, will disadvantage California for federal dollars because politicians will not be elected that are responsible for this money and does not provide accountability because the process is done by fourteen randomly selected bureaucrats

The debate over Proposition 27, the repeal measure, largely mirrors the debate over Proposition 20, although redistricting reform organizations that are sitting out Prop 20 are aligning against it. Supporters of Proposition 27 , argue that eliminating the redistricting committee will save taxpayers money, mandate precise population numbers for districts, gives redistricting power to an elected legislature that can be held accountable, corrects mistakes that Proposition 11 was grudgingly passed by a slim margin in 2008, and the unelected bureaucracy cannot pretend to represent Californians state diversity.

Opponents of Proposition 27 argue that it is just a politician power grab and do not want politicians to overturn a voter-approved measure to hold them accountable. The opposition has endorsements from over fifty newspapers, AARP, and the California Chamber of Commerce.

WHAT THESE BALLOT MEASURES MEAN
The very fact that voters in these two states have a big choice on Election Day that will affect the next ten years points to the problem of our current redistricting process: those drawing the lines have too much power over what choices and representation a state’s voters are likely to have.  Normally when procedures similar to this are implemented in states they are initiated and passed entirely by the state legislature. It is good that voters in these states will have a voice in deciding what they want when relating to such an important issue – a goal that FairVote promotes through its leadership in the EndGerrymandering.com project .