How is it possible that Florida, where a citizen-driven state constitutional amendment solemnly prohibits gerrymandering, ended up with what an expert statistician has called the most partisanly gerrymandered map he had every seen? Read the Orlando Sentinel article, and note the testimony of Jonathan Katz, of the California Institute of Technology, and Jonathan Rodden of Stanford. The academics were testifying as part of a legal challenge by voting rights activists of the suspicious process by which Florida’s Republican-run legislature, apparently in league with Republican party operatives.
A state amendment approved by voters in 2010 states that, when it comes to redistricting, “No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.” This is clearly farcical in Florida, where in one known email exchange a GOP consultant, Marc Reichelderfer, bemoans to a Republican Speaker’s aid that “the Webster seat is a bit messed up”, revealingly implying that Florida’s 10th district is most usefully thought of as belonging to Republican Dan Webster.
During the suit, it came out that a Republican Party employee, Frank Terrafirma, had spent quite a bit of time drawing congressional districts on his computer. According to an article in the Sunshine State News…
Terraferma testified earlier Friday that he drew maps that might have looked outside the scope of his job running state House campaigns for a variety of reasons, including whether new congressional and Senate districts could set off chain reactions that might open up House seats.
“The other thing is, candidly, it’s fun, to be honest with you,” Terraferma said. “And I enjoy doing it.”
One can only imagine how much fun it was when key parts of Terraferma’s maps made their way to the legislature for consideration. Terrafirma shared his maps with a Republican consultant, and later almost identical maps were submitted to the legislature by a Florida State engineering student. In court, Terrafirm claimed just last week that he had no idea that this had happened.
Voters’ groups, including the League of Women Voters, have sought to force the consultants to reveal their dealings with lawmakers, under the reasonable assumption that the consultants have heavily influenced the generation of Florida’s current congressional maps in violation of the Fair Districts principals quoted above. Last week the 1st Circuit Court ruled that Data Targeting, Inc. (check out their zen website) would not have to publicly divulge 538 pages of documents regarding their dealings with state legislatures, though the documents can be used in the trial — as long as the press is barred from the proceedings. This ruling confirmed Data Targeting’s assertion that divulging these conversations would reveal “trade secrets” (so there you have it, gerrymandering is a “trade”) as well as violate their First Amendment rights. So apparently colluding with legislators in secret is protected in the First Amendment.
Needless to say, none of this would be happening if Florida employed any reasonable version of hands-off redistricting. The shenanigans in the Sunshine State make it clear that fair and civic-minded behavior can’t be legislated, and attempting to do so only creates an opportunity for cynical political operatives.
More on gerrymandering in Florida: