“What is clear to me … is that this group of Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process,” Judge Terry P. Lewis wrote in July, in a scorching castigation of how the state drew its congressional boundaries. “ … They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing this all in the shadow of that process, utilizing the access it gave them to the decision makers. … They managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent.”
In other words, they cheated. And the Republicans who run Tallahassee let them.
They cheated by cramming every black voter between here and Orlando into one sprawling, nonsensical district, jutting here and there and everywhere, which guaranteed that Corrine Brown would never again have to lift a finger in service of her own reelection, while also ensuring that no Republican from Northeast Florida would ever have to worry about soliciting the votes of or giving a good goddamn about minorities or Democrats or non-conservatives in general. They cheated, too, by gerrymandering District 10 to protect U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, through the use of what Judge Lewis called an “odd-shaped appendage” packed with white suburbanites, and by “destroy[ing] e-mails and other evidence of communication regarding the redistricting process.”
Lewis declared the map unconstitutional — after all, just in 2010 Florida voters had approved an amendment to the state constitution mandating that congressional and State House and Senate districts be drawn without this kind of chicanery — and ordered the Legislature to take another pass. After a special session in August, the Republicans produced a second map that had some … um, let’s call it light tinkering. Brown’s district, for instance, still snakes hither and yon between the 904 and 407, but the configuration is arguably slightly less bonkers. Slightly.
Last week, Lewis signed off on those new maps. (The League of Women Voters, which challenged the original maps, has promised an appeal.) And then he backed down on his earlier threat to force the state to use new maps for this year’s congressional elections, a logistical nightmare that would have required special elections in 2015. In the end, he didn’t really have a choice.
And so the cheaters won. Their maps — their unconstitutional, gerrymandered maps — will be in effect in November. Come 2016 we’ll get the new, improved maps — which are still an intentional assist to the state GOP.
The political science literature is skeptical — more skeptical than journalists, certainly — about how big a role gerrymandering actually plays in our national political morass. Regardless, Florida still has a system in which politicians choose their voters, not the other way around. What we need is another constitutional amendment, one that would require the creation of a nonpartisan commission to draw congressional and legislative boundaries, like the one in California that has produced some of the most competitive districts in the country.
Elections are too important a business to be left in the hands of the self-interested. The cheaters can no longer be allowed to prosper.