Leading Question

By Forest Balderson June 30, 2011

Map Quest

Congressional redistricting—sometimes cynically referred to as the “incumbency protection plan”—is taking place around the country. This process occurs every 10 years after the new census numbers come out. The intent is to equalize district populations. According to the 2010 Census, Florida’s population has grown by 2.8 million over the past decade, earning it two added seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Florida legislators are charged with mapping boundaries that will encompass 696,345 people in each of what will now be 27 congressional districts.

Now through October, Floridians have a chance to voice how they would like to see the congressional (and state legislative) boundaries redrawn as the Florida House and Senate hold public meetings around the state.

“It’s a listening tour to be sure Floridians know they have an opportunity to be a part of this [process],” says State Rep. Doug Holder, co-chair of the congressional redistricting subcommittee.

But just how much will citizen input count? Historically this has been a political game controlled by the party in power. But last November, Florida voters banned gerrymandering (the redrawing of district lines to favor a political party or candidate), by passing Amendments 5 and 6, which call for more contiguous, compact districts—a seemingly radical change.

Sounds great, but it’s not possible to take gerrymandering out, says Susan MacManus, political scientist at the University of South Florida. “This is the most political of political decisions,” she says. “What’s fair to you might not be fair to me. You might want compactness, and I may want to look out for minorities. This is a very legalistic arena, and Florida has a history of these [decisions] going to court. Our state is multiracial, and that’s why it yields so many lawsuits.” Over the past decade, Florida’s total population has seen a 28.4-percent increase in African-Americans as well as a 54-percent increase in Hispanic populations.

Several groups, such as Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the Florida NAACP, have complained in a letter to legislative leaders that “legislators are about to embark on 26 public hearings without presenting maps to the public for review,” and that legislators are also forbidden from commenting at these meetings, a process that will make it almost impossible for the public to evaluate what’s happening.

McManus says redistricting is always complex—“It’s like a kaleidoscope,” she says—and that Florida voters are unrealistic in their expectations about what Amendments 5 and 6 will change. Politics will be part of the process, and many of the citizens at these meetings will be carefully chosen (by local political clubs, for example).

Nonetheless, legislators have to at least show that they’re being solicitous. “It won’t be as spontaneous or as useless as you might think,” she says. “Some public input could grab the attention of a legislator.”

On Tuesday, Aug. 30, Sarasota and Manatee residents will have an opportunity to voice their opinions at a Florida Redistricting Public Hearing at New College of Florida’s Sudakoff Center, 5845 General Dougher Place, from 6 to 9 p.m. The new map must be completed before June 4, 2012, so candidates can qualify to run in the 2012 elections. Go to for the timeline.

Drawing the Lines

Each Florida congressional district now must have 696,345 people. Here’s a look at which districts are over- and underpopulated.

Florida Redistricting Public Hearing

Aug. 30, 2011, 6-9 p.m.

New College of Florida, Sudakoff Center

5845 General Dougher Place, Sarasota

District 13 has 61,460 too many people, according to the 2010 Census.


Get Involved

Floridians unable to attend the meetings may still submit remarks via email to [email protected], Facebook at, or Twitter at Meeting videos, podcasts, transcripts and other records will be available through Floridians may draw their own maps at by clicking on MyDistrictBuilder.
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