Word on the Street: Redistricting Dog and Pony Show

David Fernandez – Orlando, Florida

Traveling circuses have historically been a way to sit back, relax and enjoy the stunts, tricks and performances put on by amazing entertainers. In Florida, a new type of traveling spectacle is touring the state in the form of Redistricting hearings, but sadly, state legislators have been putting on some poor performances. From absent representatives, to senators playing with their iPads and cell phones during hearings, it’s obvious these hearings have been more of a sideshow act than a plea to achieve effective public input in the redistricting process.

On November 2nd 2010, 63 percent of Floridians voted in favor of constitutional amendments 5 and 6. Fair Districts would set guidelines to draw lines in a manner that directly reflects the local demographic, and create compact districts that simply make sense, compared to the current cut up district lines political parties have gerrymandered for decades. On the state level, the Florida House has set aside $30 million to fight against the implementation of Fair Districts, leaving voters in an interesting position where their tax dollars are both being used to sue and defend…themselves. This assault on democracy is just another attempt by Florida incumbents to keep their gerrymandered seats and continue the same agenda attacking working families at home and in the voting booth.

Under the guise of collecting public input, legislators have been traveling the state listening to voters concerns on the redistricting process. In Orlando, Working America members helped fill the seats of the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, demanding answers and fighting back against voter suppression. Member Violeta Hernandez noted that she was “impressed, usually when they have similar hearings, just a few people show up, but this time we had around 600 people speaking their mind. It was exciting to see.”

Voters voiced their concerns about the lack of sample maps provided to the public and the millions of dollars set aside to combat Fair Districts. “Not every legislator responded to questions, some of them were not even interested in what we had to say,” said Ada Carrion, a Working America member who attended the hearing. “Some of them walked away and a few fell asleep. I was furious and felt completely disrespected.”

Who wins and who loses? If the state uses all the time allotted during session to pass the districts, the process could take up till June 2012 to have official lines drawn. This gives voters and candidates one and a half months to get out the vote for the primaries, leaves voters disenfranchised, hinders quality candidates from running, and safely secures an incumbent advantage. “Voters are not being heard. They could be drawing the district lines right now, instead politicians are playing political volleyball with our election,” says member Peter Vasquez. “Frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings, this is a circus and I won’t be distracted by the show.”