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Redistricting Amendment Passes, Faces Lawsuit from U.S. Reps


Tallahassee, FL – While most of the constitutional proposals before voters failed to pass on Election Day, a pair of redistricting amendments did reach the 60-percent threshold. Opponents of the amendments complained they would be unworkable, but voters disagreed. Now one of those proposals, Amendment 6, is facing a lawsuit, and as Lynn Hatter reports, it's coming from two members of Florida's congressional delegation.

U.S. Representatives Corrine Brown and Mario Diaz-Balart have filed a federal lawsuit against Amendment 6. The ballot proposal is one half of a pair approved by voters on Election Day. It says districts can't be drawn to favor or disfavor any political party or minority group, and must be compact making use of city, county and geographical boundaries. Deirdre McNabb heads the Florida League of Women Voters. She says the passage of the amendments will help end the practice of gerrymandering and will be important for years to come, regardless of which party is in power.

"The voters read the rules and they agreed with the clarity and the fairness of them," said McNabb, "so they will be pivotally important in ensuring the voters come first, communities are kept together, and that lines are no longer drawn to keep incumbents and parties in power."

In an interview before the Naples Daily News Editorial board a month before the election, Congressman Diaz-Balart said Amendment 6 could cause the loss of districts where minorities have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

"If this passes, and I'll tell you why, we'll go back to pre-1992 levels, where we will lose, the one that they say - they themselves point to the one represented by Corrine Brown as a gerrymandered district that must go- gerrymandered - by who? The federal courts drew that district," she said.

But McNabb says those claims have been made before, and didn't stand up in court.

"When you see organizations like the NAACP which unanimously voted to support Amendments 5 and 6, and organizations like Democracia Ahora, which has long been involved with Hispanic voting rights, you realize that these kind of arguments are purely and simply because incumbents don't want to lose control of the process, they don't want to have rules to follow and they want to continue to do it the same old way."

Sixty-two percent of voters approved the proposals. Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who opposed the amendments, now says the legislature will follow the new rules.

"I think that's still something we're going to look at, but voters spoke and I respect that very much," said Haridopolos. "I think there are still concerns, if I can ask everyone in the room to line up by age, height and weight in alphabetical order I'm sure we could all work that out together. But voters spoke, and I respect that."

Diaz-Balart argues it's too difficult to implement because some parts of the new rule directly contradict other parts.

"They say that you would have to create districts - it all sounds really good - that doesn't hurt incumbents or help incumbents, that doesn't hurt a political party or help political party," he said. "And they mention as a district that's grossly gerrymandered, they mention Congressional District 3, which is now currently represented by an African American Democrat from Jacksonville. They say that that one would go away. Well, let me ask you this: Would that not hurt an incumbent?"

Both Brown and Diaz-Balart's districts were created to ensure minority representation under the federal Voting Rights Act. Lawmakers will begin the redistricting process next year, after the results of the 2010 census are delivered to the states.