The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause have written to Florida House and Senate leaders, Steve Crisafulli and Andy Gardiner expressing concern over the Legislature’s redistricting process and urging full transparency.
Earlier, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers violated the state Constitution during the 2012 redistricting process. And last month, Leon County circuit Judge George S. Reynolds, III, issued an order giving the Florida Legislature until September 25, the draw new congressional maps and defend them in court.
“Your joint memorandum indicates that a “base map” will be drawn by staff and counsel with a “public release” of the map sometime thereafter,” said the letter to Crisafulli and Gardiner. “We believe that the “base map” should be discussed and drawn in public, as that map will play a central role in the legislative process of drawing the Congressional redistricting plan. We hope and expect that the Legislature will provide a mechanism for the public to view the drawing of the “base map” and any associated discussions.”
See the full text of the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause below:
August 3, 2015
Dear Speaker Crisafulli and President Gardiner:
We write to voice concerns about the process undertaken to redraw the Congressional redistricting plan in accordance with the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Detzner, ___ So. 3d ____, 2015 WL 4130852 (Fla. July 9, 2015)(“Apportionment VII“), as well as the process that will soon be undertaken to redraw the state Senate plan in accordance with the Consent Judgment entered in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Detzner, Case No. 2012-CA-2842 (Fla. 2d Jud. Cir. Ct.).
During the 2012 redistricting process, the Legislature repeatedly emphasized the merits of openness and transparency in redistricting, but nevertheless made key decisions in non-public meetings, destroyed public records, and undertook other actions that were directly contrary to the openness and transparency with which it assured the public it would act. In your July 28, 2015 joint memorandum to the Legislature, you indicated that “all legislative actions” would be discussed “in an open and transparent manner,” and you referenced the “procedural recommendations” made in Apportionment VII. It is, however, unclear whether the process outlined in your memorandum will in fact provide an open and transparent redistricting process that complies with the guidance in Apportionment VII.
Your joint memorandum indicates that a “base map” will be drawn by staff and counsel with a “public release” of the map sometime thereafter. We believe that the “base map” should be discussed and drawn in public, as that map will play a central role in the legislative process of drawing the Congressional redistricting plan. We hope and expect that the Legislature will provide a mechanism for the public to view the drawing of the “base map” and any associated discussions. With modern technology, there are simple and inexpensive mechanisms by which the drawing of the “base map” can be recorded and made public in real time (e.g., live streaming on the web of any map drawing sessions), and there is no valid reason to refuse such access.
If, however, the Legislature intends to draw the “base map” outside of public view or, worse yet, has done so already, that approach undermines the Legislature’s assurances of an open and transparent remedial process and runs afoul of the Florida Supreme Court’s guideline that the Legislature “conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation.” See Apportionment VII, 2015 WL 4130852, at *45. As the Court noted, “one of our state constitutional values is a strong and well-established public policy of transparency and public access to the legislative process.” Id. Conducting all “base map” discussions and drawing in public will ensure that transparency and access, and avoid the problems of secrecy that contributed to the unfortunate circumstances of this case.
We urge the Legislature to conduct the open, transparent, and apolitical redistricting process that it promised, and that the citizens of Florida deserve. At a minimum, we ask that the Legislature take the following steps as it redraws the Congressional and state Senate plans:
(1) The Legislature should comply with both the letter and the spirit of the guidelines set forth in Apportionment VII. Among other things, the Legislature should (a) “conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public” and “record any non-public meetings for preservation”; (b) “provide a mechanism for the challengers and others to submit alternative maps and any testimony regarding those maps for consideration” and “allow debate on the merits of the alternative maps”; (c) “offer an opportunity for citizens to review and offer feedback regarding any proposed legislative map before the map is finalized”; and (d) “preserve all e-mails and documents related to the redrawing of the map.” Id. at *45-46.
(2) The Legislature should specifically identify all persons involved in the preparation of the remedial map (including the “base map”), including persons who drew the map and persons who provided directions, guidance, or input relating to the map.
(3) The Legislature should specifically identify all proposed maps or districts drawn or submitted by the public, legislators, political consultants, or other persons that were relied upon in any way in the preparation of the remedial map (including the “base map”).
(4) The Legislature should not rely on claims of privilege or confidentiality, including attorney-client privilege, as a basis for shielding discussions and decisions regarding the remedial map (including the “base map”). For example, we hope that there will be no attempt to use the presence of counsel during the drawing of the “base map” or discussions regarding the “base map” as a mechanism to avoid disclosing the very information that the Florida Supreme Court urged the Legislature to make public.
Thank you for your efforts in this matter.
cc: Florida Legislature