Commentary: Gerrymandering must end

To look at some of Florida's legislative and congressional districts, like this map of state Senate District 27, for instance, you might conclude that they were designed by a contortionist.

There are dozens of such contortions statewide, leaving voters to wonder why their state representative or member of Congress lives hundreds of miles from them. These districts -- zigging and zagging across cities, leaping over vast uninhabited tracts to connect two distant communities -- are created every 10 years by whatever party controls the state Legislature.

It's an equal opportunity abuse of voters' rights to fair representation practiced by both parties in an effort to cement their own re-elections.

In November, voters will get the chance to change this assault on democracy by adopting Amendments 5 and 6 to the Florida Constitution. Amendment 5 establishes standards for how legislative districts may be redrawn; 6 does the same for Florida's congressional districts. New districts are drawn by the Legislature every 10 years after the U.S. Census.

There are plenty of examples of legislators' abuse of their redistricting power. In 1992, then-state Senate President Gwen Margolis, a Democrat, redrew the 22nd congressional district, a narrow strip of coastal cities in Palm Beach and Broward counties. She extended it into her northeast Miami-Dade Senate district so she could challenge incumbent, E. Clay Shaw Jr. She lost. Others were more fortunate.

In 2002, then-Florida House Majority Leader Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, chaired the redistricting committee. Florida got three new congressional districts after the 2000 Census. Mr. Diaz-Balart's committee drew new congressional District 25 around his state House district lines, extending it south to a portion of Monroe County and west through the Everglades to eastern Collier County to capture enough GOP voters.

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