Floridians might soon be able to see how big of a role politics played in the redistricting process, but that won’t stop the same thing from happening the next time around.
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court ordered the release of 538 pages of documents from a GOP consultant involved with the state Legislature’s drawing of districts.
Gainesville-based consultant Pat Bainter has tried to keep documents from his firm, Data Targeting Inc., from public view. The Florida League of Women Voters and news organizations — including the Halifax Media Group, owner of The Sun — fought for their release.
Bainter is now seeking for the documents to remain sealed until at least February, after the time for an appeal has passed. Barring a reversal, the documents should provide insight on the extent that political operatives were involved in a process that was supposed to be free of politics.
Florida voters passed the Fair Districts amendments in 2010 to bar legislative districts from being drawn in a way that benefits a particular party or incumbent. Judge Terry Lewis ruled in July that two congressional districts violated those standards, citing Bainter’s documents in making the case.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s oddly shaped district was one of the districts found to be invalid. The district stretches from Jacksonville through Alachua County to the Orlando area.
Lewis found that the district’s design was more about protecting Republican election prospects than protecting minority voting rights. GOP legislators boosted the number of minority voters in Brown’s district, reducing the number of minority voters in neighboring districts who would be less likely to vote for Republicans.
Lawmakers in August adopted a new map that made some changes but largely kept Brown’s district intact. Lewis signed off on the maps, but the Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to take up an appeal in the spring.
The court stood in support of good government with its decision on the documents. It should go further in ordering a redrawing of the districts.
As another case involving Alabama districts that is before the U.S. Supreme Court shows, Republicans have used minority voting rights as a pretense for packing minority votes into as few districts as possible.
While that has ensured minority representation, it has also distorted the composition of legislative bodies in a way that dilutes the influence of those representatives. It also increases polarization by making candidates appeal to their base rather than a broad range of voters.
If the courts fail to address the issue, voters should do it on their own. Further measures might be needed in Florida to require that an independent commission draw districts, as other states have done.
The redistricting documents should show the role that politics played in the process. The next step is to prevent it from happening the next time that districts are drawn.