I. The Legislature’s timeline for drawing districts is unfair to Florida voters.
QUESTION: Why won’t the Legislature prepare the maps earlier, debate them in the Fall and pass them during the first week of session?
THE PROBLEM: Legislators plan to wait to finalize district maps until at least the end of session in March, 2012. By law, the courts and the Department of Justice have more than 90 days after passage to review the maps. Under the present timeline, it is highly unlikely that districts will be finally approved before the June 8, 2012 deadline for candidates to file papers to run. Florida’s maps will be approved later than almost every other state in the nation. Districts may not be finalized until August!
- The Legislature’s own lawyer says this will cause “massive voter confusion”;
- Elections supervisors will have insufficient time to prepare for elections and it is unlikely absentee and overseas ballots will be finalized by their deadlines for mailing;
- Challengers or new candidates will have little if any time to mount campaigns; and
- Voters will be voting for candidates they have had little opportunity to get to know.
THE LEGISLATORS’ EXCUSE: “There is nothing we can do – the Constitution requires us to draw the districts during our 2012 regular session.”
REALITY CHECK: Legislators can debate and pass maps during the first week of session.
- The Legislature will hold interim committee meetings from September through December. They could use that time to present maps, allow public comment, and prepare final plans to submit to the full House and Senate before the Legislature convenes.
- The Legislature could bring the maps to the floor as a first order of business – voting on them by the end of Session’s first week (January 13).
- This would double the time for review by the courts and the Department of Justice, create a real possibility that the maps could be finally approved before qualifying, and allow elections officials ample time to prepare.
- Bills were filed last session requiring that maps be drawn earlier. These bills didn’t even get hearings.
- Uncertainty as to what a District will look like helps incumbents because incumbents are already known to the voters and can raise money and challengers are reluctant to throw their hats in the ring. The current timeline is designed as an incumbent protection plan.
This is outrageous! Florida voters should not and will not tolerate such blatant efforts to protect incumbents and undermine fair and competitive elections.
II. The Legislature should not spend our money to oppose FairDistricts.
QUESTION: Why is the legislature continuing to spend money to oppose the will of their constituents as expressed when 63% voted for the FairDistricts standards?
THE PROBLEM: The Legislature does not want to comply with the FairDistricts standards so it has spent well over a million dollars of taxpayer money hiring lawyers to fight them and it has set aside another $30 million for court battles.
- The House and Senate unsuccessfully fought Supreme Court approval of the amendments for the ballot in 2008.
- They held over 30 hours of committee meetings in 2009 and 2010 trying unsuccessfully to find fault with the amendments using lawyers from Speaker Cannon’s former firm who were paid $300-per-hour.
- They tried to take a second bite at the apple in 2010 arguing unsuccessfully in court that the amendments should be stricken from the ballot.
- They tried (unsuccessfully) to confuse voters by placing Amendment 7 on the ballot with purposefully misleading language.
- Leaders convinced the Governor to withdraw his predecessor’s preclearance application from the Justice Department. It took a lawsuit to get them to reapply.
- The Florida House is using taxpayer money to attack and invalidate a provision of our state constitution that was supported by 63% of Florida voters. It is spending our money to join a lawsuit (filed by Representatives Brown and Diaz Balart) asking the court to strike Amendment 6 from the Florida Constitution. Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who headed up the “Nix 5 and 6” campaign is the defendant in that case. So Florida taxpayers are now paying to sue and defend the same lawsuit.
- All of this money is being spent while teachers are being fired, social services are being cut, and not a single job is being created. Yet, the House and Senate have set aside upwards of $30 million to avoid the FairDistricts standards and promote their version of a redistricting plan.
THE LEGISLATORS’ EXCUSE: Members deny they are spending money to avoid having to follow the FairDistricts reforms. They say they only joined the lawsuit to “seek clarification” of the reforms – not to invalidate them.
REALITY CHECK: PolitiFact and the Orlando Sentinel’s Malarkey Meter rate the denials of spending public money to avoid FairDistricts “FALSE”. The lawsuit asks the court to “invalidate” Amendment 6 and “hold it unconstitutional” and contains no request for any “clarification.”
- The Legislature should be working to uphold the constitutional provisions placed there by almost 2/3 of the electorate last November – not spending our money to protect their own seats.
- If the Legislature would stop trying to get out of following the new FairDistricts standards and apply them as the voters intended, there would be no need for litigation and no need for the massive amounts of taxpayer money they are planning to spend.
III. Where are the maps?
QUESTION: Why won’t the Legislature provide at least some sample maps for public comment before the end of the statewide public hearing tour?
THE PROBLEM: The Legislature is holding 26 hearings around the state. But no maps are being provided for citizen comment. When the Legislature really gets to work in Tallahassee there will be minimal or no time for public comment on the maps they will vote on. The public hearings are an expensive waste of time designed to make legislators look like they are listening.
THE LEGISLATORS’ EXCUSE: They say that in order to draw maps, they must hear from citizens about how they want their districts to look. They are asking non-expert citizens to comment in a vacuum and to draw the first maps. They say Floridians will have ample opportunity to comment on the legislature’s maps when they are made public in Tallahassee — either during interim committee meetings or during session. They also say that legislators have not been able to draw maps yet because Florida was one of the last states to get its census data.
REALITY CHECK: the Legislature has had the data necessary to draw district maps since March. In over four months since, not a single map drawn by any legislator(s) has been revealed to the public.
- Other states that have public hearings do so in order to allow citizens the opportunity to comment on actual proposed maps. For example, after maps are finalized in Arizona, they are made available to the public for comment for 30 days before final passage.
- Why are the legislators not showing us their maps? They have had the census data for over four months!
- While they have created “MyDistrictBuilder” for the public to draw their own maps, that system does not provide the tools necessary to draw real statewide maps (like measures of compactness and other data).
- Maps submitted by the public will not be voted on. This “mapping for the public” is a charade intended to make people believe they have input when the real maps will be drawn by consultants and presented with little or no meaningful public input.
- Without maps to comment on, the public does not have a real opportunity for meaningful comment on real maps.
- It is totally clear that the public should have a meaningful opportunity to comment on maps before final passage. THE REAL MAPPING WILL BE DONE AWAY FROM THE PUBLIC EYE AND WITHOUT MEANINGFUL PUBLIC INPUT.
- Committee leaders have said the public will have an opportunity to comment during the redistricting process in Tallahassee. What about the vast majority of us who live nowhere near Tallahassee? And how many members of the public will be allowed to speak in time-limited meetings? This is not a real opportunity to have public input into the maps.
- They promise that they will have a two or three day comment period before any votes are taken on any proposal. Get real! How can citizens, hundreds of miles from Tallahassee, review, analyze and comment on complicated statewide maps in two or three days?
- They tell us to send emails or post comments on the website – are they serious? Will they really read hundreds of last minute emails or posts during session?
It is no wonder that the vast majority of citizens who have been attending these hearings have expressed suspicion about the true motives of the legislators. There is something very strange about this refusal to present maps for comment – especially when coupled with the Legislature’s relentless efforts to not have to follow the new rules. It leads us to believe that – like often happens in Tallahassee – the real mapping is going on in back rooms and the intent is to spring the maps during the last week or two of session and ram them through without the public really knowing what is going on.