Floridians have been turning out in droves at recent public meetings across the state with heated comments and widespread media coverage on a subject some might see as boring: redrawing voting-district lines, or redistricting.
Once every 10 years, Florida lawmakers must redraw congressional and state legislative districts using new Census data.
Voting district lines are important.
Draw them fairly and no political incumbent or political party gains an unfair advantage.
Draw them unfairly and politicians get to choose their voters. Bizarrely shaped districts can skew elections long before any candidate qualifies for office.
In November 2010, Floridians voted 63 percent to 37 percent for two new constitutional amendments intended to make Florida's legislative and Congressional voting districts fairer and more representative of Florida communities.
Amendments 5 and 6 - approved by voters by nearly 2-1 last November - are intended to ensure districts will not be drawn to favor one candidate or party, and to ensure minorities an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.
But enacting the amendments was only the first stage of a two-year process in redrawing voting districts. ??Next, lawmakers have to draw the district maps. Over the past few months, as part of Florida's redistricting process, lawmakers held a series of hearings across the state to gain input from its residents.
AARP members and representatives of other groups are voicing a big concern at the hearings: Legislators have not provided draft maps for the public to comment on. Without maps, AARP volunteers and members say, it can be difficult for residents to understand what districts might be created. Meanwhile, legislators also set an initial timetable that left the drawing of maps for late in the 2012 legislative session too late for would-be candidates to understand the districts they might be running in.
Pointed criticism seems to be having an impact. Legislative leaders are now talking about providing maps at an earlier point in 2012, so members of the public can see what's in the works.
The AARP urges you to take an active role in choosing your elected officials. For more information, go to aarp.org/fl or visit www.floridaredistricting.org. You also should call your state representative or senator to urge them to adopt voting districts that allow voters to choose their elected representatives - not the other way around.
AARP associate state director-advocacy