Society thinks about history in decades. In the last hundred years, we’ve seen exponential growth in technology, education and science on a decade-by-decade timeline. Between the 1990s and 2000s, we have leaped into the social media and internet universe, components of our lives today that were unfathomable a decade earlier.
One thing is for sure: a lot can change in 10 ten years, including how our communities look and are represented. Right now, we are approaching a once-in-a-decade chance to change how state and congressional districts look in Florida. Your lawmakers have an opportunity to change the game for the next decade, and we must make sure they are playing fairly.
The U.S. Census counts every resident in the United States every 10 years. This decennial census determines how many seats each state gets in Congress for the next 10 years. But to determine who is in what district and how the government allocates funds for schools, hospitals and other essential services, lawmakers also use the Census to update all state and federal district lines to ensure that all of our votes carry equal weight and our communities have equal resources.
How they’re drawn
Or at least, that is what’s supposed to happen. The mischief lies in the drawing of these districts.
The community districting process is tied to the things we care about: clean water, parks and places to play, infrastructure, good jobs and clean energy. Lawmakers should draw districts in a way that keeps communities that have a common culture, history, and policy concerns together. This continuity ensures the electoral and decision-making processes genuinely reflect the will of the people.
But the reality is that those who draw Florida’s districts — state representatives and senators — do not always play fairly. Historically, even as recently as the last redistricting period in 2012, politicians rig the process, drawing districts to serve their political interests instead of our communities’ needs. Ten years ago, the legislature passed unfair, gerrymandered maps that favored one party over the other, leading to a costly Florida Supreme Court battle. Those lawmakers not only damaged communities but also our trust in their ability to represent us fairly.
Another reality is this past decade has pushed the public further and further into political apathy. We’ve seen the systems fail so often that many voters feel like their voices and votes don’t matter. Politicians’ bad behavior has eroded public trust and civic engagement, and they have to take this opportunity during community districting to heal the public process. Lawmakers must earn back our trust by being honest, transparent and fair.
That reconciliation starts with accountability. Voters and residents have to let lawmakers know we are watching and listening and reject political advancement on the backs of our communities. Although the Legislature failed to be honest and transparent 10 years ago, they can now prove to us — their constituents and taxpayers — that they can play fair this time.
Fair Districts provisions
That’s why organizations across the state have asked Florida legislators to commit to a fair, transparent process that ends map manipulation and creates truly representative districts through a Fair Districts pledge. Our state legislators should comply with the Fair Districts provisions in our state constitution, which were approved by 63% of Florida voters. These laws prohibit the Legislature from drawing districts to favor themselves or their parties. The amendments also ensure that lawmakers cannot draw districts to diminish the rights of minority voters.
While our communities look different across the state, we all want the same things: a transparent process we can trust, where communities remain whole and where voters have an equal voice. We are tired of feeling silenced and pushed out of the public policy process, and we want to elect lawmakers who represent our values and communities. The time to reclaim our power as voters is now, and it is up to us to make sure our voices are heard. Our legislators’ burden is to get this once-in-a-decade community districting process right; they can begin to gain back voters’ trust by signing the Fair Districts pledge.
Jalisa Giles is the Civic Engagement Director for Florida Conservation Voters based in Miami. The Fair Districts Pledge can be found at www.FairDistrictsCoalition.org.