Miami Herald: "Web will allow open view of
state's redistricting." September 15, 2001
Redistricting, that most political of all political decisions and one of those most often associated in the public's mind with deals brokered in smoke-filled back rooms, is about to be flashed across the Internet into the light of public scrutiny.
Buy from the state a $20 software package called FREDS 2000 -- short for Florida's Redistricting System -- and you can look over the shoulders of public officials as they create the maps and plans that will yield two new U.S. House seats for Florida and redefine countless state legislative districts. If you don't have a computer, public institutions such as libraries and community colleges will have the program, officials say.
Election redistricting is the once-a-decade process in which elected officials in each state redraw political boundaries based on the most recent Census figures.
Some legislative committee meetings, which will be held before the Florida Legislature meets in January to redraw the districts, will be webcast live. Some legislative redistricting sessions will be televised. & Maps and proposals will be posted on the state's website within two hours after they are delivered to officials. Verbatim transcripts of debates will be available on the Internet as well.
The FREDS software, which will allow the public to see exactly the same thing legislators see as they remap the districts, can be ordered on the state's website at www.leg.state.fl.us/senateredistricting/
Though nothing will eliminate the secret political deal-making that is inherent in redistricting, experts say Florida's openness and access is unique in the nation.
``Florida is on the far edge of the envelope, clearly far beyond other states in making the process user-friendly and making available vast amounts of information to the public,'' said Tim Storey, redistricting analyst for the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. ``The question is will people use it. It is still an esoteric process, hard for regular people to understand.''
State officials are excited about the project.
``This is a new phenomenon,'' said state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the Miami Republican who chairs the House congressional redistricting committee. ``Because of the Internet, the public will have more access today than the members of the Legislature had 10 years ago.''
Though there were public hearings a decade ago, Diaz-Balart said, ``the plans were already drawn. It was almost like a sham.''
Every 10 years states are required to redistrict U.S. congressional and state legislative seats. Florida has grown by more than three million people, giving the state two new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. And the new population will result in the need to redraw most of the 40 state senate and 120 state legislative boundaries.
In the state Legislature, Republicans hold 25 of the 40 Senate seats and 77 of the 120 House seats. The GOP also controls 15 of the 23 U.S. House seats from Florida, while Democrats occupy both U.S. Senate posts.
``A computer could easily draw the districts,'' said Sharon Wright, associate professor of political science and black studies at the University of Missouri. ``But it's not that simple . . . because of all the politics that goes into it. And much of the politics revolves around race.''
There is always competition between drawing perfectly aligned districts without regard to communities of interest and accommodating the need for districts that allow for minority representation, said Wright, a visiting political science professor at the University of Florida.
``The more you open the process up, the more you allow participation, the better,'' said state Sen. Dan Webster, a Winter Garden Republican and chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee. ``If we plan to have an open process, it will be an open process.''
In 1991, the Democrat-controlled legislative leadership put the redistricting plan together, Webster said, and ``no one knew about it until the last night. We voted the final passage of that plan at 3:30 in the morning. We started debate at 12:01. That's not what I consider an open process. Only a day or two before we had even seen the plan.
``We have something that didn't exist 10 years ago,'' Webster said. ``We have the Internet. Everything is available on the Internet. You can get the software for $20. You put it in the computer and watch it develop. You can actually draw a plan and submit it.''
Democrats, though equally excited about the technology, worry that high-tech aside, there are fundamental issues that remain to be addressed.
There are not enough public hearings around the state and not enough evening meetings for working folks, said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise. & Even though 21 hearings are scheduled, added Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, there will be none in seven of the state's 23 congressional districts. & Democratic Sen. Kendrick Meek of Miami-Dade said legislative members need to hold at least nine more hearings.
Norman C. Powell, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who represents Florida's Democrats in the brewing battle over redistricting, had a message Saturday for a mostly black crowd gathered at the Enoch Davis Center.
The pendulum, Powell said, is swinging back. Decisions made since Florida reconfigured its legislative districts in 1992 will change how districts are drawn this year, undoing some of the progress African-Americans made in the last decade, Powell said.
"There is a marked difference between what was going on last time and what is going on this time," he said.
Powell was invited to St. Petersburg by state Sen. Lesley "Les" Miller Jr., D-Tampa, and state Rep. Frank Peterman Jr., D-St. Petersburg, both black legislators who complained that the Legislature's Joint Committee on Redistricting held its only Pinellas meeting in Clearwater, far from the county's largest minority population.
The legislators invited St. Petersburg residents to the Saturday morning forum, an unofficial gathering to motivate people to care about redistricting and urge them to demand the state bring its redistricting committee to St. Petersburg for a hearing.
"I just thought St. Petersburg was neglected," Miller said. "Pinellas County is a huge county, and to have the hearing in north Pinellas County is basically saying, 'South Pinellas County, forget you.' "
Persuading people to care about redistricting, that once-a-decade constitutional requirement triggered by the federal government's release of new census numbers, is a tough sell.
The issue is particularly important this year, Powell said. In the early 1990s, lawmakers configured the districts to maximize minority representation. For the first time since Reconstruction, African- Americans and Hispanics were sent to the Legislature in large numbers.
"Back in 1992, minorities were riding high in terms of redistricting," Powell said. "For the first time in cities and on school boards, we saw faces that were representative of the community."
Florida courts ultimately ruled that districts should not be divided based only on race. Some districts that were created to ensure election of an African-American or Hispanic were reconfigured.
Miller encouraged the residents to spread the word. One woman at the meeting, Maria Scruggs-Weston, said she planned to circulate a petition urging a redistricting hearing in St. Petersburg. But she wished those who showed up Saturday had formed a committee to work on the issue.
"This really has an impact on our representation," she said.
If the conventional wisdom is that democracy is like sausage -- if you like it, you don't want to see how it's made -- then the approximately 60 people who spoke to state lawmakers at the South County Civic Center on Thursday are the unconventional ones.
They're the ones who want to help make the sausage.
In a political atmosphere still charged from the 2000 election, an estimated 300 people turned out for Thursday's public hearing west of Delray Beach on redistricting -- redrawing the districts that elect members of Congress, state representatives and state senators. A similar hearing Wednesday in West Palm Beach drew about 200 people.
They were politicians, former candidates and potential candidates such as Jack Merkl, a Boca Raton Republican who's thinking of running for Democrat Robert Wexler's congressional seat and would like to see the district redrawn to become "more competitive" for Republicans.
There were political club members looking out for their parties' interests and neighborhood association representatives pleading for their subdivisions not to be split among districts. There were community activists who let it be known that members of racial and ethnic minorities wanted their presence to be felt in the new districts.
And there were just plain political observers such as Mitch Mannin of Greenacres, whose family has been watching Florida's politics unfold for four generations. One of his ancestors was elected to the state Legislature from north Florida in the late 1800s, and he himself ran for a legislative seat in 1980.
In the wake of the disputed election, he told legislators Thursday, "You now have a sense of community, and the people are out.
"Are we going to follow the tradition of protecting sacred cows [in redistricting], or are we going to try to develop the principle of one man, one vote? We'll be watching."
This week's meetings were intended to gather public input before legislators officially begin redrawing the districts to reflect population shifts. The legislators didn't take questions or discuss the public comments.
"I'm here to get a perspective of what you would like to see," said Senate redistricting chief Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden.
Because the legislators didn't have many details, neither did most of the speakers, many of whom clearly were frustrated that they couldn't get questions answered. Many pressed for more local hearings once proposals are made.
A few specific plans did surface. The Palm Beach County Republican Party proposed to carve a Republican-friendly state Senate district from the county's coastal areas.
Merkl suggested cutting the most heavily Democratic precincts out of Wexler's district and moving its southern boundary farther north in Broward County. He said the resulting district still would be predominantly Democratic, but less so than it is now.
And several residents of Wellington, The Acreage and other communities in the county's fast-growing central-west area called for districts of their own.
Otherwise, legislators mostly heard calls for more compact, Palm Beach County-centered districts.
Almost each one of Palm Beach County's cities is split among two or more state representatives, state senators or members of Congress, according to county Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore. And many residents are represented by legislators whose base is elsewhere: Of the six state senators who represent parts of the county, only two live in Palm Beach County.
"We'd like to have our districts drawn so that people who represent us live with us," said John Bennett, the president of Progressive Residents of Delray, a watchdog group.
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at email@example.com or 561-243-6636.
Palm Beach County Republicans have local members in the state and U.S. House of Representatives, but not in the state Senate. Needless to say, county Republican chief Mary McCarty would like to change that.
To pave the way, she asked state legislators on Wednesday to consider drawing a Republican-friendly state Senate district along the county's coast.
Wednesday's meeting was intended to gather public input before state legislators officially start the once-a-decade duty of redrawing statehouse and congressional districts to reflect population shifts.
Another hearing is set for 6 p.m. today at the South County Civic Center at 16700 Jog Road in West Delray.
As legislators have yet to present any plans, Wednesday's session in West Palm Beach mostly brought general calls for more compact districts and more districts that are all or mostly in Palm Beach County.
And there was much talk of fairness, especially among Democrats alluding to a lingering sense of disenfranchisement from last year's presidential election.
But as McCarty reminded the legislators, equity is in the eye of the beholder. Democrats have controlled Florida's redistricting since Reconstruction -- but this time, Republicans are in charge.
In Palm Beach County, about 35 percent of registered voters are Republicans, while about 45 percent are Democrats.
Others belong to minority parties or are independents.
The county's coastal area already is represented by Republicans in the state Senate -- Ken Pruitt in the north, and Debby Sanderson in the south. But neither lives in the county.
While praising Pruitt and Sanderson, McCarty proposed to carve out a new coastal district, starting in the Palm Beach-West Palm Beach area and stretching as far north and south as necessary to amass the 400,000 people needed for a senate district.
Legislators didn't respond to any comments at Wednesday's hearing, saying they were there only to listen.
McCarty freely concedes her proposed district is designed to elect a Republican. But McCarty, a county commissioner since 1990, says she doesn't have anyone particular in mind -- and certainly not herself.
"I don't want to get on small planes and go to Tallahassee for the rest of my life," she explained.
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6636.
Take a political jigsaw, cut Florida into pieces and then reassemble the puzzle ó but make sure each piece has roughly the same number of residents, minority communities arenít cut in half and incumbents still have enough support to get elected.
Thatís reapportionment, the Legislatureís once-a-decade task of redrawing political lines so that all Floridians get equal representation in the state House and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Preparing to tackle the job in January, state legislators are on the road this fall with a series of 20 hearings to give the public a say on how the new districts should be configured. The first South Florida hearings are scheduled this week in Palm Beach County. After the final hearing on Oct. 16 in Panama City, legislators will begin drawing the maps, which must be in place by July, when candidates file to run for office in the fall elections. As they piece together the maps, legislators will deal with mathematical challenges, personal ambition, ethnic feuds and political trench warfare.
ìEvery 10 years we have a knock-down, drag-out battle over how to draw the lines because when you draw the lines it basically sets in cement the political landscape for the next 10 years, until the next census,î said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.
Republicans, who have gained a majority in the House and Senate over the past five years, will redraw the boundaries to maximize their political power. Democrats hope to form coalitions in a bid to enhance their waning strength. *
Reapportionment is a technical but politically charged process that can turn friends into enemies while at the same time foster unexpected alliances. The end result can make or break political careers.
Those involved in the 1992 reapportionment likened it to a feeding frenzy. After all the lines had been drawn, then-state Sen. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami ó who went on to win a seat in Congress ó described the process as ìtrading districts, trading plats, acting as if ó in fact ó we were piranhas devouring a live animal.î
What is reapportionment?
Once every 10 years, after the U.S. Census is completed, every state legislature must redraw political districts to reflect its stateís growing and shifting population. In Florida, new state House, state Senate and congressional districts must be drawn.
In order that every person in the state has an equal vote, districts must have equal ó or nearly equal ó populations.
The Florida constitution calls for at least 80 but no more than 120 seats in the state House. The Senate can have no fewer than 30 seats and no more than 40. Each chamber is now at its maximum.
Why is it important?
Virtually every public service ó from roads to parks to schools ó is shaped by politics and those who do the policy-making in Tallahassee and Washington. Who gets elected to the state Legislature and Congress is decided partly by how districts are drawn.
Since population dictates how many each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives, Floridaís growth guarantees the state two new congressional seats in 2002, going from 23 to 25. One of those new seats will be anchored in South Florida with the other going to Central Florida.
Population shifts within the state will influence how the House and Senate lines are drawn. Most likely beneficiaries: the high-growth areas of Southwest Broward and South Palm Beach counties. Potential losers: counties like Miami-Dade, where several districts are smaller than the statewide average.ìVery few citizens care about the process,î said Peter Wallace, a former House speaker from St. Petersburg who chaired the House Reapportionment Committee in 1992. ìBut this has tremendous impact on the patterns of representation. These are the building blocks of democracy.î
Going by the numbers
Florida had 12.94 million people in 1992. Today the state is teeming with 15.98 million residents. The growth has resulted in dramatic changes in existing districts.
In 1992, state House districts were drawn to have an average of 108,355 residents. The new districts should have an average of 133,186. Floridaís largest state House district, based in Weston and represented by Rep. Nan Rich, has a population of 231,542. The smallest House district, with a population of 103,428, is in Jacksonville, represented by E. Denise Lee.
Broward also has the largest state Senate district, again anchored in Weston. Represented by Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, it has 518,416 residents ó well over the 399,559 average that map-drawers will be aiming for.
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler of Boca Raton has the largest congressional district in the state with a whopping population of 800,902. In 1992, congressional districts had an average of 562,519 residents. The average in 2002 will be 639,295.
How it works
After finishing its schedule of public hearings, the House and Senate Reapportionment Committees will begin drawing new district maps. When legislators agree on a final set of plans, they will go the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Justice Department for review. Each must approve the plans or send them back for more work. The congressional map, which can be vetoed by the governor, must also get Justice Department approval.
Florida is one of 16 states that must get federal ìpre-clearanceî because there has been documented discrimination based on race or language. In 1972, Florida was put on the list because five counties ó Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe ó used English language ballots for non-English speaking voters.
Legislative leaders hope to complete the maps during the regular 60-day legislative session so they do not have to go back into special session to finish the work. But that may be wishful thinking. Indeed, itís unlikely they will finish this most political of duties as well as grapple with a looming budget crisis and handle a normal slate of bills in just 60 days.
In 1992, the Legislature gave up on a congressional map when the House and Senate couldnít reach agreement, partly because there was no consensus on how many districts should be dominated by Hispanic and black voters. A three-judge federal panel drew the stateís new congressional districts within a couple of months.
After some tinkering by the Florida Supreme Court the legislative districts were in place by the time of July candidate filing. Florida was one of the last states to complete the process.
Still, it could have been worse. The longest reapportionment session in state history: 520 days in 1955-56.
Winners and losers
In 1992, black and Hispanic voters were the biggest winners in Floridaís reapportionment battle.
Legislators worked to draw districts that would maximize minority voting, a prime example being the state Senate district now represented by Mandy Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale. Senate District 30 is a sliver that hugs Interstate 95 as it slices through Broward and Palm Beach County to pick up pockets of black voters.
In the 1992 elections, Florida elected its first black members to Congress since Reconstruction. They included Fort Lauderdale U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, Miami U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek and Jacksonville Rep. Corrine Brown, all Democrats.
Black and Hispanic voters also picked up representation in both chambers of the Legislature.
In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race can no longer be a dominant factor in drawing new political boundaries, but Floridaís minorities are not expected to lose any ground.
As legislators prepare for the redistricting battle, term limits insure that many House members will be looking to draw Senate districts; some legislators will turn an eye toward a Congressional seat.
Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, chairman of the House Procedural and Redistricting Council calls reapportionment ìa real mixture of politics, law and common sense.î
But Sen. Ken Pruitt warns that what voters see might not be the prettiest picture of the Florida Legislature.
ìIt brings out the worst in people,î said Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. ìForget about being Democrat or Republican. Youíre going to see a lot of individual contractors out there.î
Linda Kleindienst can be reached at email@example.com or 850-224-6214.
At 3 a.m. on a computer screen in a west Lake Worth office one recent night, a group of private citizens quietly reshaped the politics of West Palm Beach.
The mechanics werenít much harder than online shopping.
Hispanic, Haitian and Jewish leaders amassed a district by clicking on various blocks. A computer in a national Hispanic groupís Chicago headquarters, equipped with an expensive mapping program, followed the groupís moves via the Internet to provide a running tally of the districtís residents, including their races and ethnicities.
The group emerged with the potential first Hispanic-majority West Palm Beach commission district, their suggestion for retooling political power in a city where almost one in every five residents is Hispanic, but no Hispanic has held any of the five commission seats.
It was, literally, a graphic demonstration that ìour communityís not going to sit back and let things happen,î said the groupís leader, Henry SaldaÒa.
Community groups across the state and country are taking advantage of technology to participate in this decadeís redrawing of the districts from which congressional, state and many local representatives are elected.
In Miami, newly active non-Cuban Hispanic groups hope their maps and statistics will help them win a bigger role on a Cuban-dominated political stage. In Fort Lauderdale, a county planner-turned-political scientist plans to use mapping programs to explore the potential connections between how districts are drawn and how ó and whether ó people vote.
And in Tampa, Hispanic leaders consider their redistricting maps an investment in building political capital, even if they canít draw a predominantly Hispanic district now.
ìSuddenly the average citizen, with a little bit of work and a little bit of knowledge, can level the playing field and be an active participant [in redistricting] instead of a spectator,î says Douglas Adkins, who heads a Republican redistricting group in rural Nassau County, on the Georgia border north of Jacksonville. The group is using computer mapping to flex Republican muscle in the areaís redistricting, historically controlled by Democrats.
By law, congressional and state legislative districts must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts. Floridaís process is just beginning, with public meetings scheduled around the state this summer and fall. Many local governments also are due for redistricting.
Many minority groups see the district lines as routes to electing one of their own, or at least making sure their numbers are concentrated enough to get candidatesí attention.
During Floridaís last round of state and federal redistricting in the early 1990s, computer mapping was inaccessible to most of the public.
Now, many personal computers can handle mapping programs, though the four-figure price tags on most software remain too expensive for many small groups. But national minority- and voting-rights organizations are making software and expertise available to community groups, and the state of Florida is selling its own mapping program for $20.
ìWeíre not just saying, ëWe want empowerment.í Weíre saying, î explains Rafael Morel, ëHereís an example of how we want that empowerment,í member of Miami-Dade Countyís Latin American Voters League. The group is drawing congressional districts online with help from the Texas-based Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, one of several national organizations offering similar services to community groups in Florida.
The U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute is working with Hispanic leaders in Tampa and Orlando, as well as with SaldaÒaís group in Palm Beach County. The Southern Regional Council, an Atlanta civil-rights group that helped the Fort Lauderdale NAACP and others draw Broward County Commission districts last year, now is helping an NAACP branch in North Florida.
And the stateís own redistricting software has its share of takers ó from Albert Pacer, a former Broward County planner now studying for a doctorate in political science, to Nathan Epps, a state juvenile justice researcher whoís just ìpolitically curious.î
But while computer mapping holds out the promise of unprecedented public participation in redistricting, it remains to be seen how much public opinion will matter as politicians and parties wrestle to protect their interests.
At least, SaldaÒa says, ìIt gives us a better understanding of [legislatorsí] actual interest ó whether theyíre actually interested in the constituency, or whether theyíre interested in politics.î
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6636.
Make no mistake about it -- reapportionment is about raw power and the use of that power to draw districts to protect political influence.
I attended an interesting meeting of the joint House/Senate reapportionment committees recently. It was one of about 17 hearings that will be held throughout Florida to gain input about where all the new lines dividing legislative and congressional districts should fall. Although the meeting was well-attended, with more than 100 people signing up to testify, it is unfortunate that, in the end, little of the public's testimony will be consequential to the final outcome of the redrawn political districts.
Don't get me wrong -- it is good that these legislators are having statewide hearings -- and they'll hear essentially the same themes that were clearly expressed by local citizens at the Orlando hearing. People want to have influence with elected officials.
There are a number of guidelines for reapportionment, which include not deviating more than 5 percent on district make-up, compactness and communities of interest. And although race cannot be the pivotal consideration in drawing districts, partisanship is an accepted criterion by the courts. However, legislators have their own very clear, unmistakable criteria that are often in conflict with what the citizens want.
Reapportionment (or redistricting) is a blood sport, and it won't be pretty. The legislators' first priority is to draw a political district in which they can be elected or re-elected.
Second, legislators will draw districts to ensure that the party in power remains in power -- in this case to ensure that districts are drawn in such a way that more Republicans will be elected to the state House and Senate as well as the U.S. Congress. This is not a partisan commentary, because it was done this way during Democratic control, as I witnessed as an alternate member of the House Reapportionment Committee in 1980.
The next priority is for legislators to draw districts that can best ensure that their colleagues who are seeking higher office -- either going from the Florida House to the state Senate or running for the U.S. Congress -- are offered a seat that best guarantees their election. For instance, the Republicans are proposing a congressional district stretching from Miami to Fort Myers to accommodate a Republican colleague. In Central Florida, Speaker of the House Tom Feeney will have extraordinary influence to draw a congressional district for himself. If his goal is in conflict with Republican U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, or Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown -- so be it.
So, for the public to have real influence in the reapportionment process, there are a couple of meaningful things that must take place.
First, the reapportionment committees should immediately release to the public any proposed reapportionment maps. I can assure you that all legislators and members of Congress have drawn what they believe are districts that would allow them to stay in office or get elected in a new district. Each and every map that is submitted -- whether by an individual legislator, a committee or a special-interest group -- should be posted immediately on the committee's Web site. This would allow the public to see who is trying to draw districts and the effect of such recommendations on their particular interest at the local levels.
Second, when the committee prepares the draft maps, they should be made public immediately. In addition, the reapportionment committees should then hold another 17 hearings throughout the state to allow citizens to react specifically to their detailed maps as opposed to just responding to general concepts.
Finally, it is up to everyone who has an interest as to how it will affect his or her community to be as vocal as necessary.
Oftentimes when you're an advocate in the Legislature, protocol dictates that you politely approach legislators and offer testimony, as was the case at the recent Orlando hearing. If you are then denied access to what is public record, then your advocacy should be even more assertive and, if necessary, demanding.
Any legislator involved in reapportionment needs to understand that it cannot be done in isolation. One must take into consideration what the voters want and, in the end, if legislators are involved in drawing a district to suit their needs at the expense of the community's needs, they need to understand that they will be held accountable at the polls.
This is the only way that members of the public will ensure that they really are at the table, helping to make the decisions that affect them.
The author is president of Dick Batchelor Management Group. He is a former state legislator and is active in the Democratic Party.
In a surprising move, a redistricting committee voted to recommend a major power shift to burgeoning southwest Volusia and to split DeLand and Port Orange into two districts.
The committee, formed to redraw political lines to reflect the county's population growth, chose boundary lines that would give southwest Volusia two elected representatives on the County Council.
Add the two at-large members and the region will have the ear of four of the seven members.
Every 10 years governments nationwide are required to redraw their political lines to match growth. Volusia must comply by dividing the county into five equal County Council and School Board districts. The County Council will take a final vote Aug. 2. The School Board may consider the matter at its July 30 meeting.
Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk said the committee's recommendation is a plus for citizens in southwest Volusia.
"Hot dog!" Masiarczyk said when he learned the news late Wednesday. "I like it! I'm happy! West Volusia is finally achieving some recognition. It's grown down here and representation should be where the growth is . . . Anytime you get a stronger voice and more representation it helps."
Some politicians such as Councilman Big John and Councilman Frank Bruno were shocked at the vote. John, who voted for a district proposal that would keep DeBary and Deltona in one district, said splitting DeLand between two districts essentially dilutes power from the county seat.
And some Port Orange residents had argued that splitting the city into two would lump the south part of town with New Smyrna Beach, which it has less in common with than the current district that includes Daytona Beach.
John and School Board Member Earl McCrary, who also voted to keep DeBary and Deltona as one, subsequently went along with the final vote.
"Obviously the power is going to shift in southwest Volusia," John said after the redistricting committee. "DeLand is in a precarious situation. It puts two district representatives in southwest Volusia . . . The plot thickens and we'll see what happens in the next round."
McCrary said he is concerned that the proposal for the prevailing map was introduced late into the process and "didn't receive any public opinion."
When Bruno heard the news late Wednesday he yelled "holy mackerel!" He was relieved to find out that the recommendation does not divide the peninsula in his northeast district, which includes Ponce Inlet.
The committee's vote reflected a sparring over power among its own members. Pat Northey, an at-large council member who lives in southwest Volusia, voted for the power shift along with Judy Conte, of the Volusia County School Board; Ann Smith, of the League of Women Voters; and Blanca Hernandez, of the Volusia County Hispanic Association. John, an at-large-member, seemed surprised when Northey did not vote for a proposal that kept DeBary and Deltona as one.
After the meeting, Northey said she voted in the best interest of the people.
"We attempted to accommodate as much of the community as we could," Northey said. "This map best represents that. It fulfills the people's wishes the best." Conte said the winning proposal results from the community listening sessions and is "more of a consensus map."
Although the redistricting committee is comprised of seven members, only six were present at the final committee meeting. Cynthia Slater, a representative from the NAACP chapter in Daytona Beach, was out of town and could not attend.
Southwest Volusia has grown at a breakneck pace in the last decade as more metro Orlando residents have moved north for less expensive housing and to escape gridlock.
In the past decade, Deltona saw its population increase by about 37 percent to nearly 70,000 residents. That helped it surpass Daytona Beach as the largest city in the county, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
DeBary, meanwhile, grew by 117 percent to nearly 16,000 residents, besting the county growth average of about 20 percent.
According to the recommended map, there would be roughly 88,669 people within the five districts. The map also preserves heavily populated minority communities and it does not reduce their voting influence among the districts.
The committee's selection also upholds two standing rules -- a district cannot be redrawn to exclude its representative or include two council members' residences in the same district.
County Council members and School Board members must vote on the matter before a Sept. 27 deadline.
The Miami Herald (7/12, Lynch, Clark) reports, "Republicans on Florida's Gulf Coast are readying to battle their East Coast brethren over prime turf as public hearings begin in Tallahassee today in the months- long, politically explosive task of redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries from Pensacola to Key West. In Naples, Republicans have forged an unlikely coalition with area Democrats to rebuff what they fear will be efforts by Miami-Dade and Broward Republicans to shore up Republican-held, Democratic-leaning districts by redrawing the maps to include staunch Republicans from the strongholds of Collier and Lee counties."
The Herald adds, "Rep. Porter Goss, the Republican congressman who represents the area, is not running for re-election and Southwest Florida Republicans fear the natural inclination of the party to protect its incumbents will lead map designers in the state Legislature to look westward in search of loyal Republicans -- particularly for the Broward-based US House seat held by Rep. Clay Shaw, who won narrowly in November." The Herald continues, "The potential tug-of-war within the GOP for congressional voters is just one of a host of contentious issues likely to arise as lawmakers kick off a series of public hearings today and begin drawing new political boundaries, part of the once-a-decade task of shaping legislative districts to conform with Census figures."
St. Petersburg Times
Redrawing Districts not Pretty, but Needed
April 11, 2001
It's early in the process, but not too early for the public to pay close attention to the upcoming debate about redrawing the boundaries for County Commission and School Board seats. Every 10 years, armed with new population figures provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, lawmakers from Washington to Brooksville begin the task of redrawing the districts from which public servants are elected. Without question, it is one of the most purely political undertakings in our country. Offensive and defensive strategies are dreamed up and carried out in back rooms to benefit political parties and controlling individuals, and then foisted on an unsuspecting public with little more than an "Oh, by the way" attitude. But even though the process is inherently flawed because of partisanship and self-preservation, redistricting is absolutely necessary.
The method could be improved, but it remains the best way to ensure diverse groups of voters are represented equally by elected officials who share their geography. Much will be written between now and the end of the year about the redistricting - and alleged gerrymandering - of congressional and state legislative districts. Most of those decisions will be made in places far away from Hernando County. But residents here can have direct influence over how local elected officials approach the task. Here's how: The School Board, which is logically non-partisan, is divided into five geographic districts. The same is true for the County Commission, except those officials are elected as Democrats and Republicans. The problem is that each board's districts are different. So, School Board District 1 is not identical to County Commission District 1, and so on.
That is confusing to voters and it costs taxpayers money because it requires drawing and maintaining separate precinct lines and voting maps. But the confusion and cost could be eliminated if the County Commission would follow the advice of Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams, who wants the boards' districts to be the same. In addition to making an abundance of common sense, Williams' proposal helps de-politicize the function of redistricting by making it more difficult for each board to establish boundaries that promote their candidacy or their political party. At the same time, it also makes it more difficult for them to undermine their political opponents. Redistricting must be complete by the end of this year, and the new lines will be in effect for the 2002 elections. The sooner the county commissioners move to make the boundaries uniform, the less likely it is they will be accused of putting their, or their political party's, interests above those of their constituents.
The explosive growth of
African-Americans as well as Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and other Hispanic
residents will make Florida a highly competitive political battleground
over the next decade, potentially boosting the prospects of Democratic
candidates. The state's shifting demographics, reflected in census numbers
released on Tuesday, already have arrested the Republican trend of recent
decades and given Democrats a chance to hold their own in legislative,
congressional and presidential elections. Just as last year's presidential
campaign ended in a virtual tie in Florida, state elections of the near
future likely will be close, hard-fought and decided on the margins,
political and demographic analysts said on Tuesday.
One person, one vote. It's a fundamental ideal in a democracy.
When Floridians decide how their tax dollars should be spent, what kind of growth should be allowed and what will be legal and illegal, every person is supposed to have equal representation in the process.
That means each voting-age person -- whether they live in inner-city Tampa, the suburbs of Broward County or on a rural Panhandle farm -- should have the same number of representatives in Tallahassee and in Washington.
But as Floridians will learn this week when new Census figures are released, people move. Some areas grow while others shrink. The character of those areas changes too, as new people move in and longtime residents leave.
So every 10 years, the boundaries of districts are redrawn. It's intended to give every person equal footing in the halls of government.
"It's the most fundamental part of what we do in our democracy," said George Meier, who was the top staff person on redistricting in the House the last time it was done in 1992, and now works as a consultant helping other states with the task.
"Equal opportunity. That's what it's really all about." Well, in theory.
The process, handled in Florida by the Legislature, is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to lock down political control of the state.
Parties in control can spread their power simply by moving lines -- including just enough Republicans or Democrats in a district to keep control of it, not wasting any people on an already-safe district.
"They can easily determine who wins elections," said Steven Hill, the author of a book on redistricting.
Another big consideration: How does a lawmaker draw a district that best enables him to keep his job? "There are members who want the district to look the way they want," said Meier. "They want it to be as strong a district for them as they can possibly wrangle out of the leadership."
That angers good-government advocates. But they say that as long as lawmakers are in charge of drawing their own districts, it's inevitable.
"The poor people (in the Legislature) just can't help themselves," said Ben Wilcox, the executive director of Common Cause of Florida. "They tend to view the districts as their district rather than the people's district."
In Florida, Republicans, with a large majority in the Legislature, will control the process. They'll redraw their own lines -- and those for Congress, where Florida will get two new seats because of its population growth.
In the past, the party in power has used the process to solidify its power.
And that is what Lois Frankel expects.
"The lines will be drawn in a way to maximize the number of Republican seats in the Senate and House and the Congress," said Frankel, the leader of House Democrats. "I don't have any great illusions at all. I think our battles will have to be in the court."
The plan that was put in place in 1992 was altered by the courts.
But as lawmakers start down a long road to finalizing a plan next year, there's a new wrinkle: Technology.
Sen. Dan Webster, the Republican in charge of redistricting in the Senate, argues that because of new technology, just about anybody can participate -- and should.
Redistricting software costs about $3,000 -- which most interest groups can afford. And the Census data will be readily available on compact discs.
"The process, as far as the openness, is going to be great," said Webster, R-Winter Garden. "We're going to allow people to have the information, take it home, stick it on your PC and start drawing."
Technically, dividing the state into sections with the same number of people in them is easy. You put the population data into a computer it spits out evenly-populated blocks.
Hill argues that while politicians may hijack the process, there are reasons to want real people involved.
"You try to preserve communities of interest," said Hill, who is western regional director for the Center for Voting and Democracy. That's something computers don't do well.
For example, should a farmer who lives on the edge of the suburbs go into a district with his suburban neighbors who have different concerns, or into a district with the farmers who live in the other direction, so his representative is more likely to have farm concerns?
Redistricting has also been used to try to prevent minorities from being shut out of the political process, although the courts have begun to frown on that motive.
The Legislature will hold several public hearings around the state this summer, where interest groups and ordinary citizens can propose how they would draw the districts. Common Cause, for example, will draw a map.
"In '92, the doors of the reapportionment suite were locked," said Webster, who at the time was in the House. "They had this war-room atmosphere. That's going to be gone."
"Everyone's going to have access to the technology," acknowledges Frankel. "But we could draw lines until we turn blue. But the way I count, there's no way the Democrats come up with the votes."
Orlando Sentinel Tribune
You Could Help Redraw Election Districts; For the First Time When Population Figures Are Out and Political Districts Begin Reshaping this Month, Any Computer User Can Chip in Proposals
By Jeff Kunerth
March 19, 2001
Fifty years ago, George Stryker built his house on land he cleared himself, taking down 166 trees. When he tired of cutting trees, he tried hunting a bobcat that lived in the woods that extended from his property to Corrine Drive. Today, the woods are gone, replaced by homes. A car killed the bobcat. Stryker's low, concrete-block home on Rowena Avenue in Orange County now sits in the center of a strange convergence of county, state and congressional boundaries that leaves his Merritt Park neighborhood a political island isolated from the rest of its voting precinct. Merritt Park's Precinct 305A looks as if a chunk of the precinct broke off and floated north into Precinct 512. Same for another piece of Precinct 305 just one block south of the Strykers' house. "It's kind of stupid," said George's wife, Mary Jane Stryker, 75. "Why can't they just consolidate it and have one district?"
Maybe this time they will. The redistricting of Central Florida's political boundaries begins with the release of 2000 census figures for Florida this month. Census population and racial data are used every 10 years to redraw local, state and congressional districts. But one thing is different this time. Anybody with some computer savvy and the right mapping software can propose his own district. Homeowner associations, civil-rights groups, news media and public-interest organizations will be able to download detailed population and racial figures down to the neighborhood level and merge them with a special software system to join the redistricting debate. "There will be many, many people . . . that will be able to have an influence on the redistricting because of the technology," said Linda Stewart, president of County Watch, an Orange County watchdog and lobbying group.
Draw it Yourself
Redistricting always has been about politics, Stewart said, but the new technology opens the playing field to more participants. Some are calling it the "democratization of data" that allows anyone -- not just planners and politicians -- to reconfigure election districts. "The change for this census is the tremendous advancement in the technology to analyze the data," said Orlando City Planner Bruce Hossfield. "It's so much easier." Orange County Assistant Planning Manager Andre Anderson expects the computer-literate public to add dozens of district configurations to those proposed by a redistricting task force formed by the Orange County Commission. "Last time, we had 28 different scenarios. Now we may have a hundred because everybody can do it themselves," Anderson said. After the 1990 census, most redistricting maps were designed by advisory-committee members using paper and pencils, said Stewart, who served on one of those committees.
This time around, she expects more proposals from the public. "You will find a huge amount of lobbying by groups that have an interest in where the lines are drawn," Stewart said. The software isn't cheap -- about $3,500 -- but 10 years ago redistricting software cost $100,000 and needed a high-powered computer system to run it. Today's software can be operated with a laptop computer. "It's affordable, and it's pervasive," said George Meier, a Tallahassee-based redistricting consultant. "Last time, it was not affordable for even some small special-interest groups, and you had to be in Tallahassee to use this stuff." Politicians, and citizens, will be able to overlay local, state and congressional boundaries to identify those isolated enclaves such as Merritt Park -- something that has not been done in the past. "We have places in our county where districts weave in and out of each other. On one side of the block you have a county commission line and on the other side a legislative line. Nobody uses the same line," said Beverly Willis, mapmaker with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.
Dozens of such precincts exist in
Orange County -- some with just handfuls of voters. Only eight voters, for
example, live in Apopka's Precinct 225C, which sticks up from the rest of
the precinct like a lump on the head. Those eight people live in the 3rd
Congressional District of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat. But their
Precinct 225 neighbors on the south side of Main Street live in Republican
John Mica's 7th Congressional district. Precinct 225C residents vote in
State Senate District 12, but the rest of Precinct 225 belongs to State
Senate District 14. Precinct 225C exists, Beverly Willis said, because
Florida lawmakers did not use common boundaries when creating the
congressional and state legislative districts. "They never put all the
districts together to see what they have done. Maybe they will this time,"
A Picture of Change
The 2000 census figures will give
Central Florida its first detailed picture of just how dramatically the
region -- its cities, towns and suburbs -- has changed during the past 10
years. "Population growth concerns everybody who has been here awhile,"
said Mark Laliberte, 37, who moved to Orlando at the age of 5 from
Massachusetts. Laliberte said Orlando's growth in the '90s has been good
for his office-furnishings business, but the city's sprawl and traffic
congestion threaten the area's quality of life. "I just hope it doesn't
become another Miami," Laliberte said. The March census data will also
give Florida its first finely detailed picture of the state's racial
diversity. For the first time, residents answering the 2000 census
questionnaire were able to identify themselves as more than one race --
increasing the number of racial classifications to 63 from five in 1990.
Nationwide, 2.4 percent of the population identified itself on the 2000
census as being two or more races. The multiracial segment of Florida's
population is expected to be even higher.
Census Bureau Awards Lucky Florida Two More House Seats, Electoral Votes
By Nick Mason
December 29, 2000
Florida was among four big winners in political power and potential financial rewards for the coming decade when the U.S. Census Bureau announced Thursday the first batch of numbers from this year's national head count. Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona each gained two seats in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives, effective January 2003 based on population growth from 1990 to 2000. The Florida delegation will climb from 23 House members now to 25. "It's very significant," U.S. Rep. Dan Miller, R-Bradenton, chairman of the House census subcommittee, said of Florida's numbers. "As they say, the census is about power and money for 10 years." "It was a pleasant surprise and a little unexpected to gain two congressional seats; most thought it would be only one," Miller said. "The more House members you have, the more influence you have on all the committees, so you can use your clout to make sure Florida gets its fair share."
The national population climbed 13.2 percent during the decade to 281,421,906 people and continued the gradual shift from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. Florida's population jumped by more than 3 million during the decade to nearly 16 million residents as of April 1, a 23.5 percent increase from 1990. The 2000 population inched above the 16-million mark when military and federal civilian employees and their families living abroad were added to the mix for determining the number of House seats. State-by-state population and House seat numbers were released by Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt and his two bosses in Washington, D.C. The big political losers were New York and Pennsylvania, each losing two House seats. On the population side, California remains the largest, but Texas passed New York for second place. Florida remains fourth, trailing New York by nearly 3 million people and ahead of fifth-place Illinois by more than 3.5 million people. Florida ranked third in raw population increase during the decade, trailing only California and Texas, and ranked seventh in percentage of population increase. Those two rankings mean Florida will qualify for more of the roughly $200 billion of federal aid per year distributed to states based on census data to pay for education, health care, day care, highway construction, housing and other social welfare programs.
Scott McPherson, director of Sunshine Count 2000 under Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was thrilled with the Florida total and said the results appeared to reflect success in state efforts to get better counts of blacks, Hispanics, Haitians and Native Americans. "Florida's numbers exceed all but our most optimistic projections," McPherson said. "To say we are pleased is to understate the mood in our offices." McPherson was criticized by some California officials for waiting until spring to launch the Florida census campaign. He gloated Thursday that Florida spent $1.6 million " far less than California " and got two new House seats while California got only one new seat. "We took some criticism of doing too little, too late, but now we feel completely vindicated," McPherson said. "We think the numbers bear out that we did the right things at the right times. We think we brought home the bacon."
Florida Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton, summed up the numbers this way: "It's good for Florida. We will have more representation in Congress." Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, focused on extra federal money likely to come here. "After my initial review of these numbers, the results seem to reflect the substantial population growth in Florida that we have all witnessed, and should help to ensure that the individuals of Florida receive their fair share of funding for education, health care, transportation, housing and other pressing needs." Population numbers by county, city, race, ethnic background and age will be released starting in March. More census results will be released later next year. "That will give us a better understanding of how the population is distributed across the state and will help us determine if there was an under-count and, if so, by how much," McPherson said. "We really won't know until we see those March numbers." Other agencies have cited population growth patterns in Florida during the past decade that indicate the two new House seats will be based in the Orlando and south Florida areas.
The Florida Legislature in the next 16 months will redraw political districts boundaries to make room for 25 U.S. House seats, as well as realign the 120 state House and 40 state Senate districts to be used during 2002 election campaigns. Miller, who next week starts his final two-year term representing all of Manatee and Sarasota counties and parts of Hillsborough and Charlotte counties, said he hopes at least all of Manatee County, if not all of Manatee and Sarasota counties, are kept in one congressional district for the next decade. "It would be ideal to keep both together because we share so much in common with Sarasota County. I think they can both be kept together," Miller said. "With John McKay as president of the (state) Senate, hopefully we will do very well. He is critical in making sure that can be done." McKay later said it's too soon to tell whether Manatee and Sarasota counties will remain in a single congressional district. Districts must be crafted to be relatively equal in population and not discriminate against special interest groups, such as racial or ethnic minorities, or risk being tossed out in court. "While Dan's goal is an admirable one, that may or may not be possible," McKay said. "That would be very nice, if at all possible." McKay tried to squelch a rumor that the Republican legislature will intentionally craft a congressional district favorable to Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican from Sarasota, to make a run in 2002. "Absolutely not," McKay said. "You can take it to the bank."
The reapportionment process officially begins today with assignment of chairmen and members to a Senate committee and two subcommittees, one to work on the congressional districts and the other to prepare legislative districts, McKay said. Committee staff have started using computers to draw maps of possible political districts boundaries. "Nothing official has occurred," McKay said. The census began early this year when forms were mailed to about 120 million households throughout America. Two of every three people receiving mailed forms completed them and returned them to the census bureau by mid-April. Census workers later knocked on doors or made telephone calls to get census data from people who did not mail back the form.