Editorials

Map quest demands unbiased panel

Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds is presiding over the Senate redistricting trial in Tallahassee.
Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds is presiding over the Senate redistricting trial in Tallahassee.

Just when we thought the state redistricting process couldn’t get any more fouled up, the judge trying to sort out the mess last week received yet another version of the map that draws election districts for the Florida Senate.

For the record, that makes seven distinct versions of Florida Senate election districts that have been submitted to Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds. Given how utterly dysfunctional the process has been, you won’t be surprised to learn that one hour after the Senate announced its new submission — not making this up — they sent the court a corrected version.

Nor will you be surprised to learn that the map in question was never voted on by actual senators during the futile session that ended earlier this month after three weeks of useless wrangling. Instead, Senate President Andy Gardiner took it upon himself to submit a new, hybrid map drawn up by staffers because, as the chamber’s presiding officer, he has the authority to manage litigation. Or so said a spokesman.

“It’s pretty bold to submit a map that was never put before this body and say it is the map of this body,” Miami-Dade Sen. Oscar Braynon commented.

We could come up with other appropriate words, but we’ll settle for incomprehensible. How can Judge Reynolds, whose misfortune it is to have this fall into his lap, possibly accept a map purporting to be from the Senate but that doesn’t have the imprimatur of a majority of the chamber’s members?

We will not bore you with a tiresome recitation of how the redistricting process became so impossibly muddled, but here’s the bottom line: Nearly four years after the Legislature drew new maps after the 2010 census, the Florida Senate and congressional districts are still unconstitutional.

Florida voters overwhelmingly (63 percent) approved an anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment in 2010 as a way to prevent lawmakers from drawing lines in a way to promote their own, selfish political interests. The Senate essentially conceded that its own districts did not meet the voter-approved guidelines and called for a special session to redraw the maps without waiting to fight the issue in court, knowing they would lose.

But since then, the Legislature has repeatedly failed to redraw either the congressional or Senate maps in a way that meets legal requirements. A report by the Herald/Tampa Bay Times Capitol Bureau puts the total cost to taxpayers of two failed special sessions on redistricting this year at more than $1 million, in addition to the more than $9 million in legal costs to fight over redistricting in court.

Today, the congressional redistricting map is in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Judge Reynolds has the job of trying to sort through seven options for the state Senate during a five-day trial Dec. 14-18. Six of them were presented by the plaintiffs — including Democratic-leaning voters and voting groups led by the League of Women Voters — who filed a lawsuit alleging the Legislature violated the Fair Districts measure.

All of this brings to mind the late Casey Stengel’s lament after watching his young Mets baseball team commit a series of errors: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The answer is a resounding No. Florida’s lawmakers aren’t up to the job.

Surely it’s time to create an independent commission to do the work. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly greenlighted this procedure as a way to get fair voting districts.

Florida’s frustrated voters should not have to put up with a repeat of the Legislature’s pitiful performance after every new census.

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