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Fair Representation Solutions to Florida's Fair Districts Dilemma

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Florida has a state constitutional crisis to resolve. FairVote suggests two reforms that would solve that crisis -- and in fact be better for voters than Florida's current voting rules.

Last month, Judge Terry P. Lewis ruled that Florida's congressional redistricting plan was in violation of new state constitutional provisions designed to promote fair districts and requested that a new map be submitted by August 15, just 11 days before this year's Florida primary. The Florida legislature convened on August 7, with chamber leaders arriving with a new map that made minimal changes to seven of the state's 27 districts. The plan won quick approval on near party-line votes and has gone to the governor.

Over at the FairVote blog we present a detailed analysis of two ways that Judge Lewis can ensure congressional elections this November take place in districts consistent with the state constitution, with minimal disruption for voters and election officials. The first proposal is to order Louisiana's election system in the affected districts in the event that Judge Lewis accepts the redrawn districts as remedying the constitutional violation. If he rejects the new plan, our other proposal is to let voters in the five most directly affected districts define their own system with a fair representation system. We suggest the "open ticket" system that can be easily administered on Florida's current voting machines. It also upholds FairVote's core belief that voters should be able to earn fair representation in every election.

Proposal One: Louisiana election system in redrawn districts: If Judge Lewis determines that the legislature's new congressional district plan has remedied the violation, then we recommend that he cancel the primary in the affected districts, re-open candidate filing, and implement Louisiana's congressional election system in the affected districts. Such an order only would modify Florida law, not federal law, and be justified by remedying the state constitutional violation as quickly as possible.

Louisiana's system involves holding a general election in November among all candidates seeking the office, with a contingent runoff between the top two candidates in December if no candidate secures an absolute majority of the votes in November. There is precedent for imposing such a remedy on this timetable. In August 1996, a federal court redrew 13 of Texas' congressional district boundaries, invalidated the results of the primaries in those districts and ordered new elections for November using the Louisiana system. Ultimately, 10 of those 13 districts were won outright in November, and three went to runoff elections, including one between two Republicans in a heavily Republican district.

Proposal Two: Fair representation voting in a multi-seat district involving affected districts: Judge Lewis may determine that the legislature's new plan has made such minimal changes that it does not correct the state constitutional violation. If this is the case, the best and simplest approach would be to combine the five most directly affected congressional districts (as illustrated in the image below) and enact the open ticket method of voting in a multi-seat district election in November.

In the open ticket system, voters would cast a single vote for one candidate in November. Each vote counts both for the candidate and, if that candidate is associated with a political party, for that party. Similar single vote systems with at-large elections are used in a number of American localities, including Florida's Lake Park, and have repeatedly been upheld as a viable remedy to minority vote dilution by the Department of Justice and federal courts.

With a five-seat district, a candidate would be sure of victory if securing just over one-sixth of the vote in the district. Seats are allocated to parties in proportion to the share of the vote won by their candidates, and the party's seats go to its candidates who won the most votes. The "open ticket" acts basically as a primary and general election at the same time.

The open ticket system is simple and administratively feasible. Although this approach would be in tension with a 1967 federal law mandating single member districts, there is precedent from Louisiana in 2008 for unilateral state action to resolve a state crisis involving congressional elections. As demonstrated by our fair representation Florida map in our can't-miss report Monopoly Politics 2014 and the Fair Voting Solution (www.fairvoting.org), such fair representation systems provide the best assurance of accurate representation and meaningful choices for all voters. Florida, for example, would have outcomes that better reflect the state's diversity and partisan balance while giving every single vote meaningful choices in every election.

Judge Lewis is expected to rule later this month after an August 20th ruling. Stay tuned.