Thursday, August 21, 2014

Redristicting chicanery by Republicans in Florida "fixed" by more of it

During the 2010 elections, despite garnering 46 percent of the total state vote, Florida Democrats won only six of the state’s 25 U.S. House of Representatives seats. The 2010 Census gave Florida two additional seats, which required redrawing districts to create two more. Although the process was controlled by Republicans, there was a limit to the gerrymandering they could accomplish, and with Florida ending up in the Obama column in the 2012 presidential election, the Republicans actually lost two seats, while the Democrats gained four.

Nevertheless, Democrats complained of illegally drawn districts to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters in contravention of the newly-approved “Fair District” amendment. In July circuit court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that just two districts were illegally gerrymandered, but came down hard on the stealth efforts of Republicans to hide their “fingerprints” on such efforts. Lewis found that while Republican political consultants were supposedly banned from having input into how the districts were drawn to avoid any taint of partisanship, they in fact merely sent in front persons to represent their desires—thus achieving their goals while claiming they had nothing to do with it.

One of the districts—the 5th—was “bizarrely” drawn so as to accommodate a large majority of black voters. The 2012 election gave Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown a nearly three-to-one advantage over her Republican challenger. The other district the judge ruled was illegally gerrymandered was the 10th, which was won by Republican Daniel Webster by only three percentage points—and won only because Republicans added an “appendage” of communities with conservative voters outside of its expected limits in order to draw-off just enough voters to give Webster his tiny majority. Lewis determined that the 5th District was deliberately drawn the way it was in order to dilute the presence of Democratic-leaning voters in the 10th, since both districts drew votes from that area of the state.

Lewis ordered the redrawing of the two districts, but the Republican-controlled backroom process apparently did little to follow the spirit of the ruling. Seven districts received minor adjustments so that the oddly-drawn 5th could be “modified” in its shape, but otherwise the demographic properties of the districts remained intact. The 10th District was still shaped in a position to keep its bare Republican-leaning majority. 

The judge has been asked to reject the bogusly redrawn map, since it continues to violate the Fair District Amendment. But never underestimate the chicanery of Republicans to violate the rights of voters and the will of the people; Lewis has been advised that it is now “too late” to order a special election based on any further restructuring of districts, and that doing so next year would “violate” federal law.

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