Anti-gerrymandering measures on Florida ballot

This has been tried before: The Committee for Fair Elections in 2006 collected enough petition signatures to place on the ballot a measure that would have taken the redistricting power away from the state legislature and given it to an independent commission, in hopes of putting an end to gerrymandering. The Florida Supreme Court shot it down at the last minute, over the wording.

But activists regrouped in a new organization, Fair Districts Florida, and started over again.

Among the Florida ballot measures this November will be Amendment 5:

And Amendment 6:

These amendments do not take the redistricting power away from the legislature, so I guess any question of their application will have to be resolved in court challenges.

BTW, Amendment 7, which anti-gerrymandering activists called a “poison pill” the legislature introduced to divert support from 5 and 6, and which they filed a lawsuit to block:

. . . has been struck from the ballot by court order. The Florida Supreme Court might or might not hear the case before e-day.

So, are you for these amendments or against them? Why? And do you expect them to pass? And, if they do, what will be the effects?

I’d like to see a more rigorous definition of “compact”, for starters. I’ve never been a fan of “I know it when I see it” in law.

How do you go about establishing a truly independent commission? Especially when there’s no consensus about what a fair apportionment is? A commission is almost certainly going to be a partisan tool at one remove. You might as well give the responsibility directly to the legislature and let them answer for the results in the next election.

It sounds like they are steps in the right direction. That is, weakening the control incumbents and political parties have over redistricting. Probably not enough, since the incumbents and parties are still going to be doing the redistricting.

They only answer for the results in the next election if they got it right. :smiley:

Well, there’s no commission in the present amendments. The amendment proposed in 2006 would have established an Apportionment and Districting Commission of 15 members: 3 chosen by the majority party of each house of the legislature, 3 chosen by the minority party of each house, and 3 chosen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

No, if they got it right they don’t answer for the results. That is the point of gerrymandering.

Depends on whose “right”.

“may not be drawn to favor **or **disfavor an incumbent or political party”???

So, basically they can’t be drawn, period?

It is trivially easy to draw up an objective definition (e.g. a district shall contain at least x% of the land area within a circle that contains the entire district). The absence of such a definition suggests a lack of seriousness.

On thinking about this some more, I’ve been subject to some gerrymandering that wouldn’t have been stopped by any of these measures. Back when I was at Villanova, the (I think) county council had drawn up the boundaries such that the university campus was divided between five different districts, thus guaranteeing that the university would not have a voice on the council. Of course, the university was pretty politically diverse, but there were still some issues that we all agreed on: For instance, the zoning laws actually made it impossible for the entire student body to be legally housed (there were laws limiting how many unrelated people could live together, and also laws restricting the proportion of houses that could be occupied by students). We weren’t a racial or language minority, but we were a voting bloc.

It’s pretty tough to come up with a rigorous definition.

In Minneapolis, the redistricting rules defined compact as height of the district could not be more than twice the width of the district. Sounds pretty specific, right? But we ended up with one district that looks like a giant + sign. It meets the rules – the width at the widest point is almost equal to the height at the highest point (20 x 24 blocks) – but it’s a funny looking district.*

Trivial, but too simplistic to be of much use. Land area does not match to population.

Cities frequently have ‘industrial areas’ which take up a large amount of land, but have hardly any people actually living there. Also downtown commercial districts often have very few residents, too. (Last redistricting, one of the downtown blocks with the highest Census population was the City-County jail!) And vice-versa, there can be very small land areas that have a huge population living there. We have one case where the entire precinct is a single structure (the University super-dorm).

Land area does NOT equal population, and that is what the law requires as the basis for redistricting.

  • To be fair, this district was partially defined to be a minority opportunity district – they tried to make neighborhoods with a high minority population a near-majority of the district. Also, it’s in the center of the city – redistricting is harder there, because district boundaries in the outer parts of the city are constrained by the city limits.

But as I posted above, nobody has come up with a widely accepted idea of what is objectively fair.

Should districting aim to create voting districts that are representative of the region as a whole? Or should districting aim to create voting districts that as internally homogenous as possible?

For example, let’s say there’s a state which has five electoral districts. And 20% of the residents support the National Party and 80% support the Unity Party. Should the districting plan aim to create one National Party district and four Unity Party districts? Or should it aim for five districts, all of which have the 20/80 mix?

I’m not sure how your statements about land area versus population is pertinent to Steve’s suggested requirement of compactness. Districts with a lower poulation density will have a larger total area, but can still meet the compactness criterion.

Just for fun, here’s The Redistricting Game, which is a game that teaches you the principles and ideas behind redistricting reform.

The “usual” definition has to do with the ratio of the perimeter of the district to the area of the district.

There’s a Google Earth KML file that you can download that shows the most gerrymandered districts in the U.S., along with a text file explaining the methodology:

Quoth hogarth:

You’d actually want to take the ratio of the square of the perimeter to the area. But that wouldn’t necessarily be the right approach, anyway: If a city is divided in half by a meandering river, it might seem to make sense (even from non-political considerations) to have the river be a boundary between districts, but that could give you districts with very high perimeters. Steve MB’s suggestion would still work as intended there, though.

Quoth Little Nemo:

Ideally, the districting plan shouldn’t aim for either, but should rather be based on nonpolitical considerations.

Good point. It seems to me that a natural law of districting ought to be that actual recognizable communities be their own districts, if large enough, or within one district.

Like what? Divide up districts based on race or religion or income levels?

Let’s face facts. Creating voting districts is an inherently political process. Asking for a non-political districting plan is like asking for a non-political election.

I can see a problem with the “contiguous” requirement. How do islands get included in the system, unless they each have their own separate district?