Earlier this year, Fair District Florida, an anti-gerrymandering/redistricting reform advocacy group, collected enough signatures to place Amendments 5 and 6 on the ballot in Florida this November. If approved by a vote of 60% or greater, the amendments to the State Constitution would change the way state legislative (Florida Legislative District Boundaries, Amendment 5) and congressional (Florida Congressional District Boundaries, Amendments 6) districts are drawn. Among other things, the amendments would require districts be contiguous, compact and when possible use existing city/country boundaries. The Republican controlled legislature tried to stop this effort by putting their own legislative sponsored amendment dealing with redistricting, Florida Redistricting Amendment 7 , on the ballot. Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court voted to remove Amendment 7 from the ballot, declaring the ballot summary confusing and lacking critical information. The court also rejected an attempt to have Amendments 5 and 6 removed from the ballot. From the Palm Beach Post:
The court also tossed the lawmakers’ redistricting proposal, Amendment 7, finding that it lacked crucial information telling voters that, if passed, lawmakers would no longer be required to craft districts that are contiguous.
In a related ruling Tuesday, the court decided that two citizens’ initiatives on redistricting will remain on the ballot. Known as the “Fair Districts” amendments, Amendments 5 and 6, are aimed at preventing lawmakers from gerrymandering, or drawing districts that favor incumbents or political parties.
Amendment 7 was seen by many as a clear attempt by the legislature to either confuse the voters about Amendments 5 and 6, so they would fail to get enough voters, and/or a way to prevent the reforms from going into effect, as a so called poison bill to stop redistricting reform efforts.
These rulings by the court are not only a victory for anti-gerrymandering advocates, but also for the right of citizen lawmakers to use the ballot initiative process to push for real political reform. Throughout American history, the ballot initiative process has been one of the key ways good government advocates have pushed for structural change to our political system. Changing a broken system is hard and the process would be even harder if those that are in power because of the status quo were allowed to use that power to subvert citizens’ attempts at reform using direct democracy.