There are two major political consequences of the 2010 Census that this site will start to discuss on a more frequent basis. They are redistricting and (re)apportionment. That there are three articles I found today from far-reaching corners of the US that all discuss this topic is a testament to the growing discussion of these issues:
Census to alter political districts
Survey could make district lines more fair
By Abraham Aboraya | February 24, 2010
SEMINOLE COUNTY – It’s 10 simple questions with a decade of implications.
Every 10 years, as per the Constitution, the United States performs a census – a headcount and snapshot of everyone living in the U.S.
The original intent was to make sure that each state got its fair portion of people in the House of Representatives. But that was more than 200 years ago. What does the census mean these days?
The answer may surprise you, as the 2010 census could drastically change the future of politics in Florida – and in Seminole County. This is the first of two articles which will examine how a questionnaire could change the political landscape for the next 10 years, and maybe beyond.
And it all started with a Massachusetts governor in 1812.
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. But you’ve probably heard of the term gerrymandering.
Gerry was governor during the 1812 election and was responsible for drawing the voting districts. Gerry drew one district that slithered across the state, in the shape of salamander.
Gilbert Stuart drew a cartoon for the Columbian Centinel’s March 26 issue, and editor Benjamin Russel first coined the term gerrymandering to describe the district.
The name stuck, and now when a district is drawn to keep someone elected, or to keep minorities from gaining representation, that’s what it’s called.
And in Florida, there are some strangely shaped districts.
In South Florida, Florida Senate District 27 touches the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico through more than 140 miles of Florida.
The seat, held by State Senator Dave Aronberg, touches parts of Palm Beach County, Hendry County, Glades County, Charlotte County and Lee County.
Take a look at Florida House District 29: It starts just off the east coast of Florida in Fellsmere and west Vero in Indian River County, snakes west of Palm Bay into Brevard County, and then reaches up like a finger through Cocoa, Port St. John and Titusville. In one area, it’s surrounded on three sides like a peninsula by House District 32.
“They’re all created in those odd configurations in order to accomplish a certain political result,” said Ellen Freidin, the campaign chair for Fair Districts Florida. “They’re all created to be a Democratic or Republican district. And that’s what we’re trying to change.”
Freidin has been working for nearly the last four years to get enough signatures together to propose two constitutional amendments. This November, Floridians will be asked to vote up or down on Amendments 5 and 6.
Both would make it a constitutional requirement that the Florida House, Florida Senate and U.S. House of Representative districts be drawn along existing city, county and water bodies, when possible.
The heart of the issue, Freidin said, is making elections more fair. Florida has some of the least competitive elections in the country.
In the last decade, only 10 members of the Florida House of Representatives and one Florida senator have been defeated as an incumbent running for re-election.
Republican Ralph Poppell has represented District 29 since the 2002 elections, the first election after the district was redrawn. Aronberg has also represented District 27 since 2002.
“Incumbents almost never lose,” Freidin said. “They’re tailor-made to have the voters in there that would want to vote for one of these people.”
What about the Census?
When the 2010 census is finished, all those Florida districts – all those salamanders – will be redrawn by the Florida Legislature.
That’s a once-in-a-decade opportunity that Fair Districts Florida didn’t want to miss.
Mike Ertel, the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections, said that the salamander districts have been an issue forever.
“The whole purpose of the census, if you look at the core and its beginning, the only reason the census exists is to determine the number of people in congress,” Ertel said. “Everything else they do is an add-on to its core mission.”