Electoral Reform Forum held in Riviera Beach

May 18th, 2010

By Fred Markham

The newly organized Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform (FLIER) presented its second in a series of Civic Forums for Electoral Reform, May 17th at the City Hall in Riviera Beach, FL. The event was hosted by the Riviera Beach Civic Association and the Palm Beach County Voters' League. Thirty Palm Beach County residents braved a thunderstorm to attend the event.

Jayne King, State Co-Chair of the Green Party of Florida served as moderator. Most of the audience questions concerned Amendments 4 (Florida Hometown Democracy- FHD) and 5 & 6 (Fair Districts), and opinions were offered pro and con on both issues.

Florida Hometown Democracy (Amendment 4). The first speaker, Palm Beach Gardens Mayor David Levy, spoke in strong opposition to Amendment 4. He listed several points against the amendment, then gave examples of some "bad" development projects that Palm Beach Gardens had recently reviewed and rejected without benefit of the amendment. Mayor Levy said that if Amendment 4 passes, local governments like Palm Beach Gardens will merely approve and pass such bad projects on to the voters, and the voters and developers could fight it out in the election campaign. Mayor Levy did not offer the reason that he thinks local governments would assume this posture of apparently malicious obedience. Kaite McGiveron of the Florida Hometown Democracy campaign spoke next, rebutting Mayor Levy's points, and pointing out that voters will only vote on a few projects that violate land use plans. In response to the notion that local governments like Palm Beach Gardens would pass bad projects to the voters, she pointed out that local governments all over the state routinely approve bad projects which violate land use plans, and that with FHD the voters will at least have the right to veto.

Instant Run-off Voting (IRV). Michael E. Arth, Urban Planner and 2010 Florida gubernatorial candidate spoke on the need for instant run-off voting, multi-representative districts, proportional representation, and other reforms that will help to reduce the domination of the two-party system over elections. Arth stated that while the Fair Districts amendments "push the ball" a little bit down the road, they do not do enough to fix the problems of a government that only poorly represents the population.

Public Campaign Financing. Fred Markham of Space Coast Progressive Alliance and FLIER spoke on the need for public campaign financing (a.k.a. Clean Elections) to return some control over government to the voters. Our current system of privately financed elections, he says, makes it inevitable that legislators will favor special interests who can finance campaigns over the good of the population as a whole.

Voter Disenfranchisement. Carolyn Thompson of Advancement Project spoke on the many ways in which voters are denied their right to submit a ballot. Advancement Project addresses a range of "barriers to the vote", including "malicious legislation" in Tallahassee, overly complicated forms, ballot processing failures, and inequitable distribution of resources to polling places. These problems are most severe for the working poor, the elderly, working mothers, and other vulnerable population segments. Advancement Project works cooperatively with county election supervisors to identify and resolve problems, and litigates when necessary to bring justice to the ballot.

Redistricting Amendments. Yury Konnikov of FLIER and ThinkActLead.org described Florida's heavily "Gerrymandered" Congressional and legislative electoral districts. Gerrymandering is a process of rigging districts to ensure a majority for a particular party or candidate, or to deny a particular class or ethnic group their rightful majority in a district. If passed in November, Fair Districts Amendments 5 and 6 will force the legislature to draw the districts honestly. Konnikov reported that a third "poison pill" amendment (number not yet assigned) has been placed on the ballot by the legislature, with the express purpose of rendering Amendments 5 and 6 ineffective. The new "Counter-Fair Districts" amendment will ensure that, if all three amendments pass, the legislature will retain its power to legally rig districts.

FLIER is organizing Civic Forums for Electoral Reform throughout Florida. Events are currently being planned for Jacksonville, Miami, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Orlando and Melbourne. If your organization would like to host a forum, or have one of our speakers at your meeting, please contact Jason Feldman.