FLORIDA REDISTRICTING BALLOT INITIATIVE REJECTED BY COURTS-Andrew Stelzer03/23/06
The Florida Supreme Court has knocked off the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would've stripped lawmakers of their power to redraw districts. The justices ruled today that the proposal failed to meet requirements to address no more than a single subject and have clear and unambiguous ballot language. The citizen initiative would've set up a 15-member commission to handle redistricting every ten years. Sponsors had collected the 611-thousand signatures needed to put the amendment on the November seventh ballot.
Following the ruling, WMNF spoke to Ben Wilcox, the executive director of Common Cause of Florida, and the chairman of the committee for fair elections.
"Well obviously we're disappointed in the court decision. We would have hope that the people of Florida would have been able to speak to this question to whether incumbent politicians should be able to draw their own legislative and district lines. I think that the current system where the legislature has that responsibility results in districts that make now sense that serve to help reelect the only those who drew the district lines. So, I think that the people of Florida would have agreed with us that the system is broken and need to be repaired and our proposal to have an independent commission to draw these districts in a more nonpartisan fashion I think would have passed had the voter been given the opportunity to speak to it."
Andrew Stelzer: "Is there anything you disagree with in the ruling?"
Ben Wilcox:" I wouldn't say there's anything I disagree with. Anytime you put together a proposed initiative there's a question of language and the Court, if there is a silver lining in this decision the Court has given us a pretty clear roadmap about how to draw up a amendment that would win the Court's approval. So I think that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s our responsibility to draft an amendment that would be approved next time around. "
A.S: "You started, I believe with three amendments and one of them had too many words. What happened with the second one?"
Ben Wilcox:"The second one would have required the commission to meet in 2007 and draw new districts in 2008 instead of waiting for the usual redistricting cycle which would have happened in 2011 and new districts for 2012 elections. We stopped collecting signatures on that. We made the decision that it made the effort appear to partisan and we where trying to change the rules in the middle of the game. We wanted make sure it was perceived as a nonpartisan effort and an effort at government reform basically. There are lessons we learned for this experience and we'll apply it as we go forward."
Andrew Stelzer:" And are you planning on getting this on the 2008 ballot?"
Ben Wilcox:" Well, that certainly one of the options we're considering. I can tell you Common Cause I think I can speak for the League of Women voters we remain committed to this cause of redistricting reform. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an issue that both organizations have worked for more than thirty years. So we're certainly not going to give up because of what happened today in the Courts. We collected over a million signatures in support of reforming the redistrict process. I think that shows that there is a strong interests among the people in brings about this reform."
That was the chairman of the committee for fair elections Ben Wilcox, speaking about the Florida supreme court rejecting a proposed constitutional amendment that would have stripped lawmakers of their power to redraw districts, and appointed a 15 member commission to do it instead. In a separate ruling, the high court agreed to let another citizen initiative goes on the 2008 ballot: it would've put a ban on same-sex marriages in the Florida Constitution. Sponsors had hoped to send it to voters this year but failed to get enough petition signatures. The justicesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ note in both opinions that they were ruling only on whether the proposals meet narrow requirements to get on the ballot, not on their merits.