Keep politics out of re-districting

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A South Marion Citizen editorial

The Florida House and Senate redistricting committees on Monday begin hosting the first round of joint public meetings. The Florida Legislature redraws state and congressional districts every 10 years following the publication of the U.S. Census.

Members of the public will have several opportunities to make their vision for redistricting known to committee members.

First, they can attend public meetings. Second, they can email committee members their input. Third, they can use social media to get their ideas to committee members. Fourth, they can build and submit their own maps on special software at the Florida redistricting site. Finally, they can contact their legislative representatives. To learn more about these options, visit www.floridaredistricting.org/.

In all, the committee must decide on 120 state house districts, 40 state senate districts and 27 congressional districts before the qualifying period begins for the 2012 elections.

Thanks to the Fair Districts Amendments overwhelmingly supported by voters in the last election, the committees must adhere to “compact and contiguous” districts that ideally would end the gerrymandering practiced in the past by state politicians.

Legislators in the past have been able to skirt the rules. For example, contiguous is defined as “A geographically contiguous district is one in which all parts of the district are attached to each other.” Gerrymandering is defined as “the drawing of electoral districts to give one group or party an advantage over another.” It is possible for a district to be contiguous and guilty of gerrymandering.

Recently, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, complained reapportionment is an expensive undertaking made even more expensive by the Fair Districts Amendments. However, one formal proposal already submitted cost very little money.

Nicholas Ortiz, a 24-year-old Columbia University law school student from Jacksonville, created his own congressional plan that withstands the legal scrutiny imposed by Amendments 5 and 6. Ortiz had one advantage over lawmakers — his map was drawn without political implications in mind.

Redistricting is much simpler when one only considers population, contiguity, compactness and preservation of counties and communities of interest. In the past, that seems to be a mark rarely met. For example, only six of the 40 state Senate districts contain an entire county within their districts. Even in those six districts, the lines are drawn capturing pockets of political factions to strengthen the incumbent party’s hold on the district.

In Marion County, for example, the county is represented partially by four state senators, none of whom lives in our county.

The redistricting committees have two choices this year: They can do the right thing and focus solely on meeting Amendments 5 and 6’s guidelines matching up people with similarities in compact and contiguous districts, or they can let politics interfere while the public sits and watches a crime being committed.

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