TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — One of the mostly hotly-contested battles in politics has begun its once-in-a-decade fight.
State lawmakers are beginning the process of redistricting, where they will draw new maps laying out how the state is broken into districts for representation in the U.S. Congress and the Florida House and Senate.
Redistricting occurs after every Census, the decennial process that tries to pinpoint how many people there are in the United States and exactly where they live.
The party drawing the maps has enormous power over how states are represented, both in Congress and in state legislatures. Some states have passed laws to create independent commissions that draw the maps, but in Florida, they’re drawn by the party in power.
In 2010, Florida voters passed two constitutional amendments that intended to take politics out of the map-drawing process — but history shows it happened anyway.
In 2015, after years of court battles challenging the maps, a judge ruled the maps drawn by Florida Republicans revealed: “a secret, organized campaign” that “made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process,” instead of creating a “shadow redistricting process” that favored Republicans.
“They had several specific instances of Republican Party employees basically, submitting maps through a public process pretending that they were neutral maps when they were Republican-oriented maps,” said Aubrey Jewett a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. Courts effectively ended up drawing the maps in the end.
Florida will get one extra seat in Congress this year, and that could shift the balance of power on Capitol Hill, since Democrats hold only a 5-seat edge in the House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate, which is not affected by redistricting, is split 50-50.
“If you just go by the numbers, that new seat is going to go somewhere in Central Florida,” said Jewett. “It’s basically going to go somewhere between Tampa and Orlando and Daytona [Beach], mainly because that’s where the highest population growth in the state has gone over the last decade.”
Members of the public can submit their own maps through the legislature’s website.