As Florida legislators struggled last week to draw a congressional district map that meets a court mandate, it became clear that what they would end up with would be far from perfect. “Bring me a redistricting commission or something, for goodness sakes,” exclaimed Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, as lawmakers convened for the second special session to revise a congressional redistricting plan that had been rejected by the court. “Bring me something that works!” Redistricting reformers thought they had found a better way when they persuaded 63 percent of Florida’s voters in 2010 to approve the “Fair District” amendments to the Florida Constitution that outlawed gerrymandering and banned lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties. But taking politics out of the most political of acts turned out not to be so easy.
Rather than start from scratch, legislators relied on the same assumptions built into previous redistricting maps. Court testimony revealed that GOP political operatives, many of them skilled map makers, were allowed to draw maps and pass them to legislative staff using fake emails and a shadow process.
The final product: A map of districts that elected 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats with only three districts being vigorously competitive. It also drew a lawsuit, from the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals.