Redistricting Reform in Florida
One reason why participation in US elections is low is because some people believe their vote doesn’t matter. We don’t hold this view, but we understand why some might feel this way.
Legislative districts (through a process referred to as gerrymandering) are often drawn to protect an incumbent or a particular political party. In a region with equal representation between the two major parties, a Democratic legislator might have a perfectly safe seat – right next to a seat considered to be perfectly safe for a Republican. Both legislators might occupy their seats for decades without any real fear of having to face voters in a tough election. Across the country, hundreds of legislators are elected every two years without much concern about whether their votes reflect their constituents’ best interests.
In 2005, we were among several funders who helped organize and support an effort to initiate a new system of redistricting in Ohio. A five-member commission would draw new legislative districts not with the goal of protecting incumbents, but to instead have “competitiveness” be a primary criterion. Incumbents (of both parties) who didn’t fear the ballot box would need to wake up and engage voters on issues of concern to citizens.
The need was quite clear – at least from the outside. Inside Ohio, things looked quite different. A campaign initiated from outside the state wasn’t really in touch with Ohio voters, at least in 2005. The language was confusing to some, and felt rushed to others. The initiative failed. We failed. But we learned.
Five years later, we reentered the fray, supporting two ballot measures to reform redistricting in Florida. This time, both the idea and the leadership were local. When Concerned Citizens of Florida contacted us, they already had discovered a broad base of in-state support. They had been building toward these ballot measures for several years, and had vetted the language and the reform idea with many leaders and communities. The only things they lacked were funding and a bit of strategic guidance.
After making an initial contribution to their campaign, we helped build a partnership of funders to support the effort. We successfully made the case to skeptical funders that the timing clearly was ripe. We noted that the November 2010 election would likely see high turnout from voters who believed their government was unresponsive – and those people would support this kind of reform. We also continued to participate in meetings about campaign strategy. Both measures passed, with more than 60% support. Important reform had come to one of the Nation’s largest states.
- If an effort is about a state, people from that state must take the lead.
- Timing is essential in comedy - and in movements.