Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Voters are being set up in Fair Districts scheme

The grizzled old man limped up to the platform in Pensacola and said, to the appreciative hoots of the audience, "I don't have anything to say, but I've never seen so many Tallahassee elected officials in one place, so I thought someone [had] better supervise."

He was followed by another man who noted that he had read their itinerary, and that he envied their ability to enjoy shrimp in Pensacola and conch in Key West, and said he hoped they would accomplish something with this grandiose state listening tour.

Hopefully, you've had better things to do this summer than stay glued to following the televised Fair Districts hearings. However, for those of us who are watching, it is jarring to listen as one Florida voter after another stands up and says the same thing over and over: "Show us the maps," "Follow the Fair Districts rules voters put in the state constitution" and "Stop wasting our money fighting the rules we passed."

Read more of this column and see related links in the OrlandoSentinel here.

Why is redistricting so important? For years, Florida has had some of the least-competitive elections in the country, stemming from scores of races with no challengers. Why? Because for years, politicians picked their voters instead of voters picking their officials. And the good news for voters is, the passage of amendments 5 and 6 with 63 percent of the vote this past November will end gerrymandering, and restore a much higher degree of competition and accountability.

Unfortunately, our legislative leaders are incumbents, and predictably, are determined to protect their seats to the end, through delays and litigation.

However, like a magic shell game, it is critical that all of us keep our eye on the timeline for that is where we are being set up for the biggest scheme. An election season with districts likely to be drawn only after deadlines have passed, that create an impossible situation for candidates who want to run, and for us the voters, trying to gather information to cast an informed vote.

How are they doing this? Unlike other states that are already drawing maps and soliciting real input, our Legislature is using these 26 public meetings (with no maps presented) to create a delay tactic that will result in a schedule likely to prevent candidates from even knowing what districts they might run in — until after the deadline date for filing is over. Who does that help? Incumbents, naturally.

Very simply: The current timeline for redistricting set by the Legislature is unfair to Florida voters.

And fortunately, our supervisors of elections are paying concerned attention as well. At every meeting, the local supervisor of elections has expressed concern with the Legislature's proposed timeline, and recommended speeding up the timeline to help ensure more efficient and fair elections. Districts may not be finalized until August 2012, which would mean Florida's maps would be approved later than almost every other state in the nation. This could mean delays in sending ballots to military voters and problems for new candidates.

Other states that have public hearings allow citizens the opportunity to comment on proposed maps. For example, after maps are finalized in Arizona, they are made available to the public for comment for 30 days before final passage. In Florida, Redistricting Committee Chair Don Gaetz has said citizens will have only a two- or three-day comment period before any votes are taken on a proposal.

Have legislators drawn maps yet? Why not? They've had the census data for more than four months. If they have drawn maps, why are they not showing them to us? When will they show them to us? What are they waiting for?

The League of Women Voters calls on the Legislature to move up this timeline now. Ensure the public has meaningful time to review and comment, and pass them the first week of session.

Fellow Florida voters: Keep your eye on this Summertime Road Show. Let's make sure Florida gets the electoral process we deserve, with time for candidates to know what district they are in and mount a real campaign and importantly, time for citizens to cast an informed vote for the candidates of their choice. We deserve no less.

Deirdre Macnab is president of the League of Women Voters of Florida

Read the complete column in the Orlando Sentinel here.

Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel

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