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As Florida Takes on Redistricting, Illinois’ Efforts Come Up Short

The Florida and Illinois state legislatures ended the week with a series of votes on redistricting reform, with Florida placing three measures on November’s ballot and Illinois failing to approve a comparable measure.

The Florida legislature approved a state constitutional amendment yesterday that, like two citizen-sponsored amendments also on the November ballot, aims to change the state’s redistricting rules. But the legislature’s amendment contradicts key provisions of the citizen-sponsored amendments.

The two citizen-sponsored amendments — one covers state legislative redistricting, the other U.S. congressional — would prevent the legislature from drawing maps that favor incumbents or candidates from a particular political party, and would require districts be compact and contiguous and to follow existing geographic and political boundaries as much as possible. A citizen-sponsored amendment must get enough signatures to equal eight percent of the number of voters in the last presidential election – 676,811 for 2010 – in order to qualify for the ballot.

The legislature’s amendment keeps the requirements regarding incumbency, compactness and contiguity, but allows state lawmakers to continue to draw the districts based on “communities of common interest.” Proponents of the legislature’s amendment argue it would allow them to continue to group areas with majority-minority populations together to give minorities better representation. The Florida Senate passed the measure by a vote of 25-14. The state House passed it Monday 74-40, getting two more votes than the 72 required. In both cases, the bills passed on the strength of the legislature’s Republican majority. Constitutional amendments introduced by the legislature must have approval from at least 60% of both houses.

Opponents of the legislature’s version claim that if all three amendments pass, the legislature’s version would undermine the citizen-approved legislation. It is not immediately clear how the legislature’s amendment would supersede the other two.

Ellen Freidin, chair of Fair Districts Florida — the group behind the citizen initiatives — released a statement blasting lawmakers for adding the clarifying amendment.

These legislators claim that their additional amendment is needed to “clarify” provisions of the FairDistricts amendments. But that claim is deceptive. They are just trying to hold on to their power.

State Sen. John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville), chair of the state Republican Party, told The Miami Herald it is solely the legislature’s responsibility to draw districts.

If the voters then don’t like the way we drew the lines they’ll vote us out.

In Illinois, two efforts to reform the state’s redistricting rules by constitutional amendment failed.

State Democrats lost their bid to alter the rules by two votes in the state House. Proponents needed 71 votes to place an amendment on the November ballot but could only manage 69. The amendment would have given the legislature most of the responsibility for drawing the districts without needing the governor’s approval. A commission currently handles most of the work and has been subject to ridicule over its method of breaking a tie, which puts the decision in the hands of a person whose name is pulled out of a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat.

Backers of a second proposal, advocated by the League of Women Voters of Illinois and Illinois Republicans, claim they aren’t likely to get enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

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