Redistricting process needs more transparency

Editorial by The Daily Sun, Oct 22, 2021.

OUR POSITION: Florida’s Legislature is remiss for not giving citizens better access to proposed new congressional and legislative district maps.

Perhaps our state legislators could follow Sarasota County’s example when it comes to transparency with their redistricting efforts.

Sarasota County is working toward completing a mandate that must be followed every 10 years when the Census results come out. The U.S. Supreme Court requires that all voting districts be as equal in numbers as possible. Sarasota has a difference of 14% higher population numbers in its most populated district compared to the district with the fewest voters.

To accomplish this, the county reached out to its citizens to propose where district lines should be drawn to be most fair. This week, the county’s Charter Review Board met to look at nine maps submitted by the public online. They will also consider a county designed map produced by a consultant for redistricting.

Things aren’t going that smoothly with the state’s redrawing of its congressional and legislative districts. As a matter of fact, according to the News Service of Florida, the maps could be seen by lawmakers just before they begin their annual legislative session in January. Those maps won’t be something any private citizen offered up. And they likely will not be seen by voters unless they go to a special website or make a trip to Tallahassee.

Legislators say they won’t have time before January to travel the state to hear what citizens have to say about how to redraw lines that will go a long way toward deciding who represents them in the U.S. House and Senate.

The News Service of Florida reported that Senate Reapportionment Chair Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said subcommittees that will begin to map out the new districts won’t meet until November and that give them little time to complete their task before lawmakers return to the Capital. The same deadline is hampering House members who say they will follow a similar timeline as their colleagues in the Senate.

Leadership in the Legislature believes it’s good enough to figure out a plan and then put it on a website available for public viewing.

House Redistricting Chair Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, said that will give the public all the data available to lawmakers and allow them to participate.

Our question is: in what way?

Lawmakers are blaming the pandemic for the slow start on redrawing districts — a task they’ve known forever and a day they must complete by the end of the 60-day legislative session, which begins Jan. 11. The maps must then be finalized before qualifying starts for legislative and congressional races that begin June 13.

The Legislature’s track record for drawing maps is tainted after the 2012 edition was overturned by the Court, which ruled the redistricting was not fair.

Democrats are already predicting the maps that will come out of negotiations in November and December will be challenged.

House Minority co-leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, accused Republicans of keeping the process “in the shadows as long as humanly possible.”

That apparently is exactly what is happening. And, when the GOP-led Legislature decides to reveal its maps, the number of citizens able and/or willing to go online to check them out will be only a fraction of our population. At that point the probability of being able to make any changes will be out the window.

The Legislature’s excuses for its lack of transparency in this process are weak. They should take lessons from Sarasota County.

 Image Credits: Sun Coast Media Group