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Length kills ballot appeal

An earlier state approval is rescinded because the redistricting petition has more words than the law allows.

Published August 26, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - A citizen initiative aimed at stripping lawmakers of the power to draw political districts was rescinded by Florida's top elections official Thursday because it has too many words.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood acknowledged her staff erred when it approved the petition in March. But that does not change the fact that the measure is six words too long, she wrote in a letter to the measure's backers.

"Our error does not cure their defect," said Hood press secretary Jenny Nash. "They are still obligated under the law to have submitted 75 words or less."

The Committee for Fair Elections, which is backing the proposal, has 21 days to appeal the decision to an administrative law judge.

"We're going to talk it over and see the best course to follow," said committee chairman Ben Wilcox, who also heads Common Cause of Florida.

After the flaw was disclosed Tuesday by the St. Petersburg Times, the group decided not to drop the petition or start over with a shorter version. Supporters feared there wasn't time to collect all 611,009 signatures needed by a Feb. 1 deadline for the November 2006 ballot.

The flawed measure already was signed by more than 200,000 people, though not all have been processed by the state. Wilcox said the committee hoped the Florida Supreme Court, which must approve all citizen initiatives, would overlook the error, particularly in light of Hood's approval.

If Hood's recision stands, the court will never even consider the matter.

"It's interesting they're acknowledging they made an error," Wilcox said. "I think more than 200,000 people out there wish that error hadn't happened."

Hood works for Gov. Jeb Bush, who opposes the initiative.

The rescinded measure is one of three petitions that aim to fundamentally reshape how Florida's legislative and congressional districts are drawn by giving the job to a 15-member commission with no ties to Tallahassee lawmaking.

One measure would create the commission while a second would require a new map be drawn in time for the 2008 elections.

The rescinded measure would set new standards for drawing districts, such as requiring they be compact, competitive and favor no single candidate or party.

That's a sharp contrast to the current process where legislative leaders, relying on increasingly sophisticated voter data, draw districts to favor individual politicians.

This is not the only effort to change the redistricting system. Another group, the Committee for Fair Representation, began a similar effort but has since stepped aside.

That led to confusion by Hood's elections staff, which mistakenly thought the flawed petition was identical to one it already had reviewed for the Committee for Fair Representation.

Joni James can be reached at 850 224-7263 or

[Last modified August 26, 2005, 01:35:09]

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