Are multi-member “super districts” a better idea to resolve the redistricting fight?

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In 2010, Floridians voted by a 63% margin to reform redistricting in the state constitution. Previously, politicians in the Legislature had consistently gerrymandered district lines to favor one political party over another and to make legislative districts safe for incumbents.

Amendments 5 & 6 require that lines be drawn contiguous and compact, and they should respect city and county lines where possible without taking into account incumbency or party affiliation. Exploiting new gaps, the Legislature has proposed new districts that continue to favor incumbent politicians and leave fair and accurate representation of constituents questionable. Taxpayer funds are also currently being used by a few politicians to sue the state in an attempt to block the implementation of the new amendments.

An alternative solution supported by the Florida Initiative for Electoral (FLIER) and proposed by FairVote would create multi-member “super districts” using a method of proportional representation called ‘choice voting’, also known as single-transferable vote. Such multi-member districts would ensure that residents across, up, and down the state are better represented by members of their own communities who are sent to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.

The redistricting options being debated in Florida, while in some ways better reflecting the newly amended state constitution, would continue to allow huge populations of Floridians to feel left out of the process and underrepresented in the Legislature and Congress. By enlarging districts and including multiple members, voters would have greater opportunities to elect representatives that better serve the interests of residents as well as reflect the geographical, ethnic, and racial dynamics of Floridians. Areas of the state that have had particular interests shared between communities would also be better represented by utilizing a multi-member super district.

Using a ‘choice voting’ system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preferred choice, seats within these super districts would be won proportionally to the amount of support candidates earn. A five seat super district, for example, would require a candidate to obtain a threshold of about 17% to proportionally win one seat. Choice voting for multi-member districts would provide Floridians with truer representation of the interests of residents while enhancing the participation of eligible voters.

Choice voting systems had formerly been more common in the U.S. until the two-party duopoly gained control of the electoral process during the early part of the last century by inhibiting the ability of voters to choose candidates. In the past, 24 large and small U.S. cities used the method until much progress was reversed during the McCarthy era. However, Cambridge, Massachusetts continues to use choice voting (single-transferable vote) to elect its city council and school board to this day. Many of the world’s established democracies widely use this method as well.

FairVote has created model super districts to provide examples of how the state’s district lines could be better drawn to more accurately represent the diversity and the interests of Floridians. Multi-member super districts would enhance the democratic process, but current models are based on the legislature’s latest proposals for re-drawing district lines. By starting from scratch, the super districts could be even more geographically compact.

Our current winner-take-all system of conducting elections has not only inhibited voter participation but has also reduced the representation of Floridians in their Legislature and Congress. Currently, legislators represent only very narrow special interests and only weakly reflect the diversity of their communities. FLIER recommends that multi-member super districts and proportional representation become the template in the debate over creating districts that meet the new requirements and better reflect the needs and interests of all Floridians.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.