A Florida coalition is sounding the alarm over a lack of transparency by state legislators over redistricting efforts in the state.
During a virtual briefing by a group of Florida redistricting experts on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 concerns were raised over the release of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Census leading to legislators drawing new district maps for the state House, state Senate and Congress.
“Redistricting is one of the most important voting and elections issues facing the state of Florida this year,” said Suzanne Almeida, Redistricting and Representation Counsel at Common Cause.
Common Cause is one of many organizations that form the Fair Districts Coalition, a watchdog group educating the public about redistricting and the necessity of a fair redistricting process.
The Fair Districts Coalition warned that Tallahassee politicians, having conspired with political operatives to draw unconstitutional district maps not so long ago, may once again be planning another gerrymandered redistricting event after the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau results were released Aug. 12.
Every state uses the latest Census Bureau’s information to review and change districts that in the past has been to the benefit of Florida politicians both Democrat and Republican rather than constituents, Fair Districts said.
Just two years after Florida passed the Fair District Amendments, Republican leadership “made a mockery” of the rules of transparency in the redistricting process in a 2014 decision by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.
He pointed to evidence a group of Republican political consultants/operatives purposely conspired to manipulate and influence the redistricting process with the fake maps.
With Republicans in firm control of the Florida House and Senate today, the coalition fears history may repeat itself without transparency over the upcoming redistricting.
Some red flags are already present, according to the coalition. Senate and House committee members have not yet been named, which usually occurs before the Census is released, stonewalling citizens' rights to be heard by blaming COVID-19, ignoring transparency claims and requests for legislators to commit to the Fair Districts Pledge.
In fact, only days before redistricting plans can begin again, only 17 of the 160 legislators have signed the pledge, which promises to end map manipulation and create fair districts for all Floridians without intent to favor or disfavor one political party or incumbent.
“We are gravely disappointed in that,” said Ellen Freidin, founder of the FairDistricts Florida Movement and CEO of FairDistricts Now, Inc. .
“It raises a lot of red flags.”
Letters sent to legislative leaders asking to make map drafting live-streamed to the public have been ignored.
“There’s no reason other than secrecy,” said Freidin. “It’s really important for all of us to be watching this redistricting process.”
She encouraged voters to watch closely to how lawmakers are going about the redistricting process and letting their representatives know they want them to sign the Fair Districts Pledge for fair districting.
“We believe we need to build a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, and everyone’s voice is heard,” said Cecile Scoon, President, League of Women Voters Florida and coalition member.
“Our democracy is strongest when everyone has the power to vote for the issues we care about most, like stronger schools, better roads and transportation, and affordable healthcare. In a strong democracy, political power belongs to all of us.”