Meet the New Gerrymandered Districts…

Meet the new gerrymandered House districts in Florida — same as the old gerrymandered districts, despite a court order that they be redrawn in a way that is not blatantly designed to ensure that Republicans get elected to Congress. I’m guessing this is not going to fly with the judge.

Following orders from a federal judge to redraw the state’s voting district maps, since racial gerrymandering rendered the first draft unconstitutional, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature unveiled revised maps this week.

But the new maps look quite like the old ones, especially the boundaries of the snakelike District 5, one of the most gerrymandered seats in the country. In his ruling earlier this summer, Federal Judge Terry P. Lewis said District 5 “does not follow traditional political boundaries” and “connects two far flung urban populations” without legal justification. His opinion chided lawmakers, saying districts containing “finger-like extensions, narrow and bizarrely shaped tentacles, and hook like shapes…are constitutionally suspect and often indicative of racial and partisan gerrymandering.”

Winding awkwardly around the center of the state to include the urban centers of Gainesville and Orlando made District 5 about 50 percent African American, and the population has been represented in Washington by Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), a vocal member of Congressional Black Caucus, since 1992. But packing voters of color into Brown’s district has drained them out of neighboring districts, making those seats in Congress easier to win for Republicans, who–conveniently–were in charge of drawing the map in the first place. Though Florida is a swing-state in presidential elections, Republicans control 17 out of its 27 congressional districts.

The new map proposed by state legislators would reduce Brown’s district to 48 percent African-American, while boosting her neighbor’s district–represented by Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) from 10 to over 12 percent African-American. Other than that tweak, the basic politics of the state are unlikely to change.

The government watchdog groups that challenged the maps in court, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, are not satisfied with the new version, which they call a “slight alteration” that “does a disservice to the voters who have waited too long for constitutional districts.”

We have the same situation here in Michigan, where Obama won the presidential vote easily in both 2008 and 2012 and both of our senators are Democrats based on a statewide vote, yet Republicans control 60% of the seats in Congress and both houses of the state legislature. And it’s almost all due to gerrymandering.

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    They probably think that if they can draw out the process long enough, they will have won by fiat. The judge can only delay the election for so long.

  • Chiroptera

    If the Republicans didn’t work so hard to make sure that they have an artificial majority, I wonder how many current Republicans would be sticking with them?

  • Pierce R. Butler

    I live near the “center” of Corinne Brown’s district, and have to object that ThinkProgress’s report understates the attenuation of same. District 5 extends from Jacksonville to Orlando, each of which takes me at least an hour and a half to get to – a reasonable stretch for a district out in Nevada or suchlike low-density states, but really ridiculous here in fourth-most-populous Florida.

  • outsider79

    Has the practice of gerrymandering ever been ruled on by the supreme court?

    Are there any current estimates what the Rep/Dem makeup in the US House would be in a non-gerrymandered USA?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    In response to outsider79: I have seen some articles like this:

    House Democrats got more votes than House Republicans. Yet Boehner says he’s got a mandate?

    Ezra Klein, 2012

  • Chiroptera

    outsider79, #4:

    The only court cases that I can remember involved racism being a factor in the gerrymandering. I’m not sure whether there have been any court cases involving gerrymandering to give an incumbent or a party an advantage.

    Some state constitutions mandate that their state election districts be “contiguous and compact”; I bet there may be bunch of cases at the state level, but this wouldn’t be relevant to the federal question.

  • tacitus

    I live in NW Austin, Texas. Before the last boundary changes, the other end of my congressional district was in SE San Antonio, two metropolitan areas and 100 miles away. The most direct route to the other end of my district took me across district boundaries no fewer than ten times.

    But I guess the demographic changes to Central Texas made even that gerrymandering not good enough, so now, I share the same Republican congressman as parts of NW Houston, 150 miles away. (This was the same congressman whose lawyer submitted a boundary change so that his boss’s country club could be added to his district.)

    It is quite remarkable how much nonsense political parties can get away with when it come to elections, especially in a nation where citizens’ rights are supposedly enshrined in a written Constitution.

  • Marcus Ranum

    It’s amazing there are still Americans who mistake the US for a democracy.

  • scienceavenger

    Any proposed district should be forced to pass the following test: the proposed district is divided into “zones”, the borders of the zones being state and county lines. For a district to be legitimate, It must be possible to draw a straight line from any zone within the district to any other zone within the district without said line leaving the district. So buh-bye ear muffs, snakes, or any of the other goofy self-serving designs. Every district would be, as a previous poster notes, “contiguous and compact”.

  • Gregory in Seattle

    It is interesting to note that, as you move from older states to younger, the issue of gerrymandering becomes less and less of a problem, as newer states have taken steps to avoid it altogether.

    In Washington (48th state in the Union), our state constitution says that legislative and congressional districts are drafted by committee, with the two majority parties in both the state House and Senate sending one person to form the decennial redistricting committee, with the four jointly hiring a non-legislator fifth to chair the committee. Each committee member draws up a legislative and congressional proposal, and there is a period of public input. The chair then works with the committee to create compromise proposals, which then go through another period of public input. The final committee result is then submitted to the Legislature, who can pass the legislative and congressional redistricting as laws. Once passed, the plans are signed by the Governor and go into effect at the next primary election. In theory, the Legislature can refuse to pass the plans and bump them back to the committee, and in theory the governor can veto the legislation; to my knowledge, neither has never happened.

    In addition, the state constitution requires that legislative and congressional districts be contiguous, as compact as possible, and follow established political and geological boundaries as closely as possible. I believe there is also a metric as to population, with something like a 0.5% maximum variance between the most populous and least populous district. Complaints can be addressed to the Thurston County Superior Court (the Superior Court with jurisdiction over the state capital), which is empowered by the constitution to investigate and rule on whether a redistricting plan is unconstitutional.

    The net result is that we, and most western states, don’t have the wrap-around districts you see in the east and south. To illustrate the point, I refer you to the Top Ten Most Gerrymandered Congressional Districts in the US. The list includes one district from each of California, Texas and Arizona, but those are nothing compared to ones like PA-12, MD-3, IL-4, NY-8 or NJ-13.

  • Rick Pikul


    I would add some rules to allow for situations like Sudbury and Guelph here in Ontario: A urban riding that is surrounded by a rural riding. Also, sometimes the reasonable thing to do results in ridings which jut into each other, generally because that’s how a municipal or topographical boundary runs

    Not that I’m talking about serious abuses. Here’s a map of the Ontario riding boundaries:

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    It would not be difficult to have this done entirely based on an algorithm that uses population density to achieve essentially what Greg outlines as the process in WA state. There may be minor tweaks for some specific issues, but the whole problem would mostly be eliminated by the adoption of a computer based approach.