Out of more than 1,400 Florida legislative campaigns in the last 10 years, do you know how many incumbents have been booted out of power by voters? Only 11, according to Florida election statistics reviewed by the AARP Bulletin.
If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard to get Florida government to respond to your concerns, this may be one reason why: Every 10 years, Florida’s powerful legislative leaders create voting districts that are tailor-made for particular interests. At the same time, the districts are drawn to make it harder for everyone in a district to have an equal say in who should represent that district.
Now AARP Florida has endorsed two proposed constitutional amendments, put on the ballot by voters’ signatures, that could make sure that voters have a stronger voice in governmental decisions.
The amendments are Nos. 5 and 6 on the Nov. 2 ballot.
“AARP believes that voters should choose their representatives, rather than having government representatives choose their voters,” said AARP Florida State Director Lori Parham. “Everyone in a voting district should have the same say over his or her representatives as everyone else in that district. Unfortunately, Florida’s voting districts today are too often drawn purely to protect special interests. The resulting voting districts divide up counties, cities and neighborhoods, diluting communities of interest and keeping voters from having an effective voice.”
If voters adopt Amendments 5 and 6, the state constitution would set tough new guidelines for legislators who draw voting districts every 10 years, based on Census results.
Amendment 5 would require state lawmakers to draw electoral districts that rely whenever possible on existing geographic boundaries and keep communities in the same districts if possible. Amendment 6 would set similar standards for Congressional districts. The amendments would take effect in time to influence Florida’s 2012 redistricting.
Currently, lawmakers use standards that allow voting districts to wander across geographic, city and county boundaries, at times narrowing down to one or two blocks and then broadening again to capture neighborhoods expected to favor a particular incumbent’s candidacy.
Sometimes, electoral districts wander far across county lines and even regions. Some Congressional districts wander across entire regions of the state, often requiring three to four hours to drive from one end to another.
Urban legislative districts can be even more oddly shaped, sometimes thinning down to a skinny two-block-wide slice to stretch across more than two dozen incorporated cities in two counties.
“This is not just a matter of ensuring fair voting districts for you in the district where you live today, but for a district where you might live tomorrow,” Parham noted. “Because our current voting districts are so bizarrely shaped, you might lose your ability to have a meaningful say in choosing your representative in your new home for as much as a decade if you don’t ‘fit the profile’ of the voter that elected official wants in his or her ‘home district.’ It’s voters who should be choosing their elected officials, not the other way around.”
The issue is familiar ground for AARP. Two years ago, AARP’s California state office backed a similar citizens’ initiative to turn redistricting over to a citizens’ commission and to give California voters a more meaningful voice in choosing their representatives. The initiative was strongly opposed by California’s predominantly Democratic legislature.
Now AARP Florida has endorsed a similar plan in the Sunshine State. The proposed Florida constitutional amendments also have been endorsed by the Florida League of Women Voters, by several of the state’s major newspapers and by leading Democratic and Republican figures. Honorary chairs of the organization leading the effort to pass the amendments include former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat, and former state Comptroller Bob Milligan, a Republican.
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