FILE - Florida State Capitol

The Florida State Capitol buildings (Old Capitol in foreground) in Tallahassee.  

(The Center Square) – The Florida Legislature is set to begin its decennial redistricting process next week when the Senate’s Reapportionment Committee meets Monday and the House Legislative Redistricting Committee holds hearings Wednesday and Thursday.

The two panels will use 2020 Census population data to reconfigure the state Legislature’s 40 senate districts and 120 House districts in hearings through the fall with reapportioned districts to be approved by lawmakers during their 2020 session that begins in January in time for November’s elections.

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, will lead the Senate redistricting committee and Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, chairs the House redistricting panel.

Both chambers will participate in the Congressional Redistricting Committee, which will draft Florida’s reconfigured congressional districts. As the country’s third-most populous state with 21.5 million residents, Florida will gain a 28th congressional district beginning in 2022.

While lawmakers, particularly Republicans who control both chambers, appear eager to begin the once-in-a-decade reapportionment, a newly posted survey indicates a significant majority of rank-and-file Floridians, including Republicans, don’t trust them or the system and believe they will “gerrymander” districts so the elected select their electorate rather than the other way around.

According to a June 30-July 8 survey of 428 registered voters conducted by Massachusetts-based RepresentUS released Thursday, 64% of respondents said they were concerned about elected politicians drawing their own electoral districts and 69% “expressed quite a bit of concern that politicians today have used gerrymandering to rig elections in their favor and undermine the integrity of our elections.”

When respondents were asked if they support or oppos gerrymandering, RepresentUS said 80%, including 75% who said they voted for former President Donald Trump, opposed the practice of redrawing electoral lines in favor of a particular party – even their own.

“Floridians across partisan lines, they hate gerrymandering,” RepresentUS Senior Campaign Director Joe Kabourek said during a Thursday conference call. “Whether you're a Democrat, Republican or independent, you abhor the practice in Florida.”

RepresentUS describes itself as a grassroots anti-corruption nonprofit which aims to “fix our broken elections and stop political bribery.”

The group is lobbying for adoption of the For the People Act introduced in Congress, “the most impactful anti-corruption bill since Watergate” that would “end gerrymandering in Congress, end secret donations to politicians and rein in Super PACs.”

Floridians support the proposed bill with more than 80% of respondents favoring adoption and agreeing states should approve similar laws.

“There's some evidence (Floridians) don't trust Florida legislators to conduct this process fairly, based first and foremost on the history over the past decade,” Kabourek said. “But obviously, as we see in the data, (there's) clear concern about the lack of transparency and obvious conflicts-of-interest inherent in the process.”

The Florida Constitution prohibits drawing districts “to favor a political party” and, in 2010, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved two Fair Districts amendments that further prohibit drawing electoral district maps that favor incumbent elected officials.

Among other guidelines, the Fair Districts Amendment requires the state’s Supreme Court to review state legislative district maps. If the court rejects district maps approved by lawmakers – which the governor cannot veto – they are kicked back to the Legislature.

If lawmakers cannot reach consensus, under the state’s constitution, the attorney general must ask the state Supreme Court to do so.

The Florida Constitution requires all districts, whether congressional or state legislative, be contiguous. Also, "where doing so does not conflict with minority rights, (districts) must be compact and utilize existing political and geographical boundaries where feasible."

None of these procedures and guidelines, however, are applicable to how lawmakers will draw the state’s 28 congressional districts.