In a “column” sent out to voters on Saturday, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, offers misleading information on Amendments 5 and 6, the so-called “Fair Districts” amendments that, if passed tomorrow, will create rules limiting the Florida legislature’s ability to gerrymander districts for partisan success.
The amendments “would change current law which says that congressional districts must be drawn ‘fairly’, that they be ‘as equal in population as feasible’, and that they must use ‘city, county, and geographical boundaries,’” writes Brown-Waite in the email, sent from her congressional account. In a press release, Fair Districts Florida, the group behind 5 and 6, calls this assertion an “absolute lie.”
In fact, there is very little oversight of how the Florida legislature can draw district lines. I wrote this last month:
Florida’s Constitution currently offers only the bare minimum of guidelines for how the state legislature can draw district lines, stating in Article III, Section 16 that legislators must create districts of “either contiguous, overlapping or identical territory.” Those loose rules have left the Florida legislature free to carve up the state into districts that offer incumbent politicians the easiest path to reelection, and that often make no geographic sense.
Amendments 5 and 6 would change that situation, and institute some of the rules Rep. Brown-Waite writes already exist:
If passed, Amendments 5 and 6 would ban the practice of district lines being “drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.” (Amendment 5 specifically pertains to legislative districts; Amendment 6 deals with congressional districts.)
“Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice,” reads the amendments’ ballot summary language. “Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”
Brown-Waite’s press secretary is unavailable today, but I’ll post her office’s reaction when I receive it.