(Special to South Florida Times)- MIAMI — A legislative panel taking comments from Floridians on proposed redistricting in the state heard calls Wednesday to ensure that the new voter map are drawn in a fair manner and not disenfranchise minorities.
“Many of us live in unincorporated areas in [Miami-]Dade [County] that are in blight. Speaking for the African-American community, instead of gerrymandering the drawing of these districts, I recommend that the districts are drawn fairly, so we can be represented fairly,” Dr. Mae Christian, president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Miami-Dade told the hearing at Miami Dade College Wolfson Auditorium, 300 NE Second St. in downtown Miami.
Florida’s population growth has allowed the state to gain two additional congressional seats for a total of 27, said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-District 61, who chairs the House District Committee said.
Redrawing the voting map will involve 27 Congressional seats, 40 state Senate seats and 120 House seats. The process must be completed in time for candidates to qualify for the 2012 elections.
Wednesday’s hearing, chaired by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-District 4, was one of a series of meetings of a legislative redistricting committee across the state. It took place against a backdrop of complaints from Democrats and some groups that Republican lawmakers, who have an overwhelming majority in the Legislature, may seek to rig the drawing of the districts.
The Florida NAACP, headed by Adora Obi Nweze, was among four prominent organizations that wrote to the redistricting committee urging the adoption of a schedule that would allow enough time for the process to be completed in a fair manner.
“We urge you to adopt a timeline for redistricting that makes sense for Florida,” the groups said in the letter dated Aug. 10. “Failure to approve maps in early January 2012 will most assuredly delay final approval of new districts until close to election day thus causing massive voter confusion and precluding organized, thoughtful elections.
“We are also concerned that the present timeline does not allow for public comment or input on the maps that will actually be considered by the Legislature.”
The other groups signing the letter were the League of Women Voters, Democracia USA and Common Cause.
Members of the panel are not permitted to respond to comments until after the hearings. “They will only listen,” Badili Jones, Florida New Majority’s political and alliance officer, said in an interview. “They will not go on record and disclose their immediate responses, ask for clarification or present any information.”
Redistricting is essentially about civic engagement and political power and therefore it is important for blacks to be involved in the process, Jones said. “Electing representatives that we choose, as opposed as people picking us to be their constituents … we should be picking our own.”
Jones said one concern was that the Voting Rights Act is adhered to “and that people will still be able to elect representatives of their choice.”
“You don’t want to divide communities. It would be problematic if a small, low-income community of color was attached to an overwhelmingly white, wealthy community. You don’t want them broken up into a district where their voices may not be heard,” Jones said.
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net