In November 2010, after much work by SAFE and many others, 63% of Florida voters changed the history of elections in Florida by passing the Fair Districts Amendment that put in place new, fairer, constitutional criteria for drawing election districts.
As soon as the Fair Districts Amendment passed, members of the Florida legislature challenged it in a federal court. Eventually that challenge was denied. For nearly six years there were delays and challenges brought on by both sides.
Finally, in November, 2016, for the first time in years, Floridians had the opportunity to vote in districts at the state and federal levels that were fully compliant with the Fair Districts Amendment.
For more information, see News and Alerts at http://www.fairdistrictsnow.org/news/666/ and What a Difference a Map Makes http://thefloridavoter.org/2016-session-legislative-wrap-up/
Every ten years all states must create new Federal (congressional) and State (legislative) election districts based on the new census data. Until 2010, Florida had no constitutional criteria for drawing election districts which means that legislators (who are charged under the Federal constitution with creating election districts) could draw the districts in any way that suited them.
This lead to the widespread use of Gerrymandering which is the practice of drawing election districts to serve the wishes of those in power in order to stay in power. Gerrymandering is an old practice and is used in most of the thirty seven states that do not have constitutional criteria for creating election districts.
HISTORY OF THE FLORIDA EFFORT
In 2009 and 2010, SAFE joined forces with FairDistrictsFlorida to get 1.67 million petitions signed to put two constitutional amendments on the ballot for the November, 2010 election. (Two Amendments were needed: one for federal congressional districts and one for state legislative districts.)
We were successful
Voters approved both Amendments 5 and 6 with over a 62% majority in the November, 2010 election
This monumental event made us the 23rd state to have fair election districts.
In 2012, despite passage of our amendments, Florida legislators managed to gerrymander some electoral districts in their favor.
Legal battles continued until the court finally approved the correct districts in 2016.
CRITERIA FOR FAIR ELECTION DISTRICTS
Can not favor incumbent or political party
Can not deny racial or language minorities equal opportunity
Must be contiguous
Must be compact and as equal in population as possible
Use existing city, county and geographical boundaries where possible
See Below for Full Text Amendments
AMENDMENT 5 for state legislators
Standards for legislature to follow in Legislative Redistricting Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.Districts must be contiguous.Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.
AMENDMENT 6 for federal legislators
Standards for legislature to follow in Congressional RedistrictingLegislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.Districts must be contiguous.Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.
THE BLOW BY BLOW EFFORT
Hearings: The Redistricting Committees (combined FL. House, FL. Senate, Federal House & Federal Senate committees) held 26 Hearings around the state during the summer of 2011 where citizens were given an opportunity to address the Committee.
The Committee did NOT present any maps at the Hearings. Their mantra was “We want to hear what Floridians want”. This was a ruse because we already told them what we want–Amendments 5 & 6 could not be more clear.
The Committee said they were being “open and transparent” in conducting the hearings. But there was NOTHING TO BE OPEN AND TRANSPARENT ABOUT– they did not have ANY proposed maps.
Many people spoke at the Hearings. SAFE Board members attended the Hearing in Tampa and Sarasota. Each of those Hearings was attended by 250-300 citizens, so there was a LOT of interest in redistricting.
The vast majority of the speakers in Sarasota and Tampa (about 100 at each Hearing) expressed dismay that there were no maps. They urged the Committee to:
Get fair maps drawn.
Provide appropriate and adequate time and venues for citizens to review and comment on any proposed maps.
Approve the maps during the FIRST week of the 2012 Session: the week of January 10, 2012.
STOP spending taxpayer money fighting the Amendments: the FL House had joined the Brown/Diaz-Balart suit attempting to get Amendment 6 (Federal) overturned. This suit was thrown out of court in mid-September, but not until after the legislature spent upwards of $700,000 of OUR money fighting OUR wishes.
WHAT THE PEOPLE DID
While the Hearings were over, it was still VERY IMPORTANT that:
-People communicated with state and federal legislators on this issue. They kept letters going to them. They were given the link below to find their legislator. They also wrote to the Redistricting Committees using the addresses below:
Senate Committee on Redistricting
103 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL. 32399-1100
Redistricting Committee: FL. House of Representatives
400 House Office Building
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL. 32399-1300
-People also attended any Committee meetings in Tallahassee that they could. The first Committee meeting was held on Monday, September, 19, 2012. To find out about the Committee meetings, they visited the websites listed above and signed up to get on their notification list. This was VERY IMPORTANT to KEEP THE PRESSURE ON.
-They continued to write Letters To The Editor, and made these points:
1) Make fair redistricting maps.
2) Provide appropriate and adequate time and venues for citizens to review and comment on any proposed maps. Making everyone travel to Tallahassee to have input is NOT appropriate!
3) Approve the maps during the FIRST week of the 2012 Session: the week of January 10, 2012
Go HERE to find your federal and state legislators.
4) Donate to help pay legal fees at www.FairDistrictsNow.org
THANKS TO FAIR DISTRICTS FLORIDA AND THE FLORIDA LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS FOR THEIR LEADERSHIP AND LEGAL FOLLOWUP ON THIS CAMPAIGN.
YES, IT TAKES THE PEOPLE WORKING TOGETHER TO MAKE NEEDED CHANGES AND ENFORCE THEM, BUT WE DID IT!