While most of us had little to celebrate Tuesday night, there was one bright spot: The Fair Districts Florida redistricting reform succeeded with the passage of Amendment 5 and Amendment 6. This was not a partisan victory, for all that opponents tried to paint it as a liberal plot. Democrats threw more organized support behind it because they potentially have more to gain. Still, the upside is only a potential, with no guarantees.
Essentially Amendments 5 and 6 promise to eliminate the worst abuses of gerrymandering, as the game is played to protect incumbents and promote one political party over the other. The more bizarre salamander-shaped districts stretching up and down the coast, or from one coast to the other, should go away. We shouldn’t be naive enough to expect that the legislature won’t still try to play games with redistricting, but at least the game will have rulebook, enforced by the courts if need be.
The rules say districts should be compact and follow city, county, or natural boundaries where possible. Opponents claimed it would be “mathematically impossible” to meet these requirements. In practice, it will not always be possible to make a district both compact and to follow city borders, for example, given that some cities have odd-shaped borders, too. But to pass muster, the new districts will have to reflect some reasonable effort to follow these guidelines.
That means the whole game board for the 2012 elections will be shaken up. I take some comfort in the fact that the heavily gerrymandered District 22, where Republican Allen West is about to become the Congressman, ought to be among the first to go. Whatever new district is drawn may still be favorable to Republicans, but perhaps not as much so.
Meanwhile, some Democrats who have enjoyed relatively “safe” districts will find themselves facing more competitive races in 2012. Other districts may not necessarily be better or worse for either party, but they will still be different, and Democrats who want to win in them will have to introduce themselves to new constituencies.
I look forward to the shakeup, and it’s one of the things we need. I’ve heard the argument that Democrats will benefit because we have the advantage in voter registration. But party registration does not always tell the tale of how people vote, and independents are often the ones who cast the deciding vote. We have an opportunity, but no guarantees.