The first week of redistricting meetings were held last week with two meetings in Tallahassee, and one each in Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and Panama City. After 13 hours of driving and 13 hours of listening to public testimony, it is clear that the effort to draw new [legislative] districts will be tedious.
This is my first experience in the redistricting process and I am honored to have been appointed to serve on the Redistricting Committee. While other members were thankful to dodge the “extra work,” I enjoy the opportunity to be a part of history and to learn the mechanics behind redistricting.
Every 10 years, Florida redraws the political boundary lines of state legislative and congressional districts to reflect changes in population, as determined by the most recent US Census and as required by the Florida and US Constitution. The term “reapportionment” refers to the task of dividing the state’s population by the number of congressional seats apportioned to the state. The task of “redistricting” is the redrawing of political boundaries to reflect change in the population.
Between now and September 1, members for the Florida House and Senate will hold 26 public hearings throughout the state to hear from Floridians on how they wish the new lines to be drawn.
The various redistricting committees will then begin drawing Florida House, Florida Senate and US congressional boundaries. It is important to note that no new maps have been drafted yet. There are an infinite number of ways that the 120 House, 40 Senate and 27 Congressional seats can be drawn; the first step is to listen to the public so we understand where they have communities of common interests and how they want to be represented in their legislative branch.
During the 2012 legislative session, the new boundaries will be adopted. The legislative session will begin early next year, starting on January 10 and ending in early March. This will allow time for the courts to validate the maps for use in the 2012 elections.
There are many complexities involved in drawing new district lines. The principle of “One Person, One Vote” in Reynolds v. Sims forbids major disparities in the creation of congressional and state legislative districts. These potential disparities are commonly referred to as the district’s deviation from the ideal population number. To determine the ideal population number, Florida’s total population of 18,801,301 would be divided by 120 house districts, 40 state senate districts and 27 congressional districts.
The Voting Rights Act prohibits any practice or procedure, including certain redistricting practices, which impair the ability of a minority community to elect candidates on an equal basis with non-minority voters.
It was quite interesting to hear the thoughts from individuals in the Panhandle. The northern part of the Panhandle is primarily agriculture and the southern portion focused on tourism and the big question was should district boundaries be drawn horizontally to reflect the communities of interest (such as agriculture and tourism), or vertically to reflect county lines where possible.
Many rural counties do not have sufficient population for a full House or Senate district and must be grouped with other counties. Then it becomes a matter of where do you split a county. Some expressed interest in “like” neighborhoods being grouped together and others asked that their city be made “whole” within the same district.
In Tallahassee, much concern was expressed over congressional districts, but in Pensacola, the focus was primarily with state and House districts.
Concern was voiced regarding the newly passed amendments 5 and 6 dealing with “Fair Districts.” Every two years, each lawmaker takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the State of Florida and the United States Constitution. These amendments are now part of Florida’s Constitution and the Legislature will abide by their requirements.
The committee heard from the AARP, NAACP, League of Women Voters, ACLU, Tea Party, Coffee Party, Democratic Executive Committee, Farm Bureau, Republican Executive Committee and the Chamber of Commerce. We heard from private citizens, school board members, city commissioners, a soil and water conservation supervisor, a mayor and a representative from the supervisor of elections office.
The 2012 congressional districts should have a population of 696,345. Baker County is currently grouped in Congressional District 4, which has an overage of 48,073. This means that the district will need to decrease in size. Senate districts should have a population of 470,033. Baker County is currently grouped in Senate District 3, which has an overage of 25,048 and will need to decrease in size. Baker County is currently in House district 12, which is 2,676 over the ideal population of 156,678.
I encourage you to learn more about Florida’s redistricting process and to sign up for e-mail updates by visiting www.floridaredistricting.org. Also, the Florida House of Representatives has launched a web-based tool called “MyDistrictBuilder” that is available to the public so that citizens can propose their version of a redistricting plan. You can access this tool by clicking “MyDistrictBuilder” from the www.floridaredistricting.org website. This online tool will be used by both Floridians and legislators to propose new boundary lines for congressional and state legislative districts.
As a member of the Redistricting Committee, it is important that I hear from you in how you want your community to be represented. Please mark your calendar for July 11 at Florida State College’s downtown campus. We will hold two meetings that day; 2:00-4:00 pm and 6:00-8:00 pm.
Ms. Adkins’ district includes all of Baker County.