Coverage of Redistricting Hearing Features Broward Activists

The Sun-Sentinel’s Broward Politics blog called out Alanna O. Mersinger for summing up the importance of redistricting reform at Tuesday’s hearing in Davie. Broward Democrats turned out to speak on behalf of implementation of the reforms approved by constitutional amendment last year, which the Legislature seems determined to sabotage.

It was crystal clear when Alanna O. Mersinger of Miramar got her turn at the mic Tuesday night in Davie at a joint House-Senate hearing on redistricting.

Here’s what she said:

I came to the last redistricting [hearing] and I said please make it contiguous, compact and the communities of interest together.
So my city, the fabulous city of Miramar, has five representatives and senators, because they cut it up like a little jigsaw.

Now my representative is a lovely man, but he lives in Collier County.

In between myself and my representative is 110 miles and about 18 alligators.

Why? What do I have in common with these alligators? Nothing.

All I’m asking for is this time when you do it, don’t take my power and disburse it. You have taken the power of Miramar, where we can really not have an impact on any of these races. We are almost a sidebar.

Give us back our power. We’re entitled to our power.

This is a democracy. I want a republic. Let me have my power back in my republic.

Read the whole story: Miramar resident explains why redistricting is important to everyone

Also: coverage from the day of the event, featuring an outspoken Randy Fleischer.



The Opportunity Created by Fair Districts Redistricting Reform

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.

The Opposition to Fair Districts Florida:

The constitutional initiative, which is up for a vote as Amendments 5 and 6, is one of the most important ballot measures not just for Democrats but for anyone who cares about fair elections.

I had thought that after failing to kill these amendments in court, opponents might not bother to put up that much of a fight against an anti-gerrymandering measure  that has been endorsed by just about every newspaper in the state. But there is an organized opposition to be aware of, and you can see what it looks like at

The main thrust of the argument seems to be that passage of Amendments 5 and 6 will be bad for minority representation. In other words, it may redistrict away some safe districts, primarily for black voters. Some minority legislators, including some Democrats have bought into this argument, but it’s bogus.

Actually, there is some language in the amendments about taking minority representation into account. However, the main thrust is to promote districts that will be compact and line up, where possible, with municipal and natural boundaries. The goal is to get rid of crazy districts that snake up and down the coast, or from one coast to the other, because incumbents and the Republican majority have manipulated the district lines for political advantage.

The Republican bosses fighting against Amendments 5 and 6 don’t care about minority rights; they care about protecting the status quo. The partisan Democratic reason to support Fair Districts Florida is to shake up the status quo, and perhaps pick up a few seats in the process. But the long-term reason to support it, as an American citizen, is simply to make incumbents compete against challengers on a more level playing field, and may the best candidate win.

Getting Republicans to Sign the Petition

In general, I am finding that redistricting reform has broad bipartisan appeal. One man who signed the other day did so while muttering darkly about how Acorn was the root of all evil, and Obama needed to be impeached (“most incompetent leader we’ve ever had”). Yes, yes, sir, just make sure you sign both copies.

I did have one guy brush past me saying, “I like the districts just the way they are.” Reminded me of people I met a few years ago, when campaigning to fix the electronic voting machines, who said they liked the outcome (Bush’s reelection) just fine, so they didn’t care if the machines might be crooked or unreliable.

Overall, however, I think that even though the Republican legislature tried to block this initiative in court, the average Republican voter will sign it happily, understanding that this is a basic issue of fairness, more than partisanship.

One argument I make is that as a byproduct of creating “safe” Republican districts, the legislature has also created “safe” Democratic districts where incumbents get a little too much of a free ride, running unopposed year after year.

But for the most part, I haven’t had to waste my breath on terribly elaborate arguments. Most people recognize that this is a common sense reform that is long past due.