Florida's Congressional districts were redrawn last year after the Florida Supreme Court sided with plaintiffs who claimed that districts were gerrymandered to favor Republicans and incumbents. But as early voting starts today for the August 30 primary, one Broward woman wants to expose the struggle to find a District 23 Congressional map.
Robin Haines Merrill, artist and owner of the Upper Room Art Gallery in Riverfront, has tried for a week to get a map of the area where Debbie Wasserman Schultz is being challenged by Tim Canova. The maps Merrill found online had not been updated to show that a portion of Miami Beach was no longer included and that a section of South Broward had been carved out. The map on the Florida Division of Elections website could not be zoomed in enough to be useful, and Merrill struggled to find a map on the Broward Supervisor of Elections website. She says phone calls to the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office were futile and that she was instructed to come to the office in person to buy a map for $10. She was outraged.
"This is gross negligence," Merrill says. "Getting basic information to voters so they can make educated decisions about who they will vote for is a basic right."
Though previously a Wasserman Schultz supporter, Merrill is now supporting Tim Canova. One reason: Wasserman Schultz endorsed fracking in South Florida. Merrill wanted to tell anyone she knows living in District 23 to vote for Canova, but first she needed a map to figure out whom she should tell. Now, Merrill believes the problem is much more serious than a map. She fears people will turn up to vote not realizing that they are in a new Congressional district.
"I find this information to be of critical importance... to have available to people before you start an election," she says. "We already have such a pathetic turn out, and now we don't know who can vote for what."
In the upcoming vote, Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is up for re-election. Though the incumbent, she was not endorsed by the Sun-Sentinel, which pointed to the difficult-to-navigate website, not offering personalized sample ballots to voters in different districts of the county, and sending inaccurate voter ID cards to Davie residents (who reside in District 23). In addition to the blunder with Davie ID cards, Merrill has already heard of one woman in Miami Beach who received the wrong information on her voter registration card. She believed she could vote for Tim Canova, but when she went to submit her early vote, she realized she was in District 27:
On Friday afternoon, Merrill went to the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office. For more than 30 minutes, she met with four different people in the office who failed to find an accurate, detailed version of the District 23 map online. Office staff showed Merrill that a map was available online by clicking "Hot Topics" at the very bottom of the website, but Merrill contends that the tab was hard to find and difficult to read since the colors of the districts were too similar.
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Ultimately, Merrill decided to purchase a poster of District 23 for $10. She still wishes it were available online and had a feature that would allow her to zoom in and see the boundaries by street name, but for now, this will do. She has since posted it online so voters in Broward can educate themselves.
Before Merrill left the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office, she left a message with Brenda Snipes asking her to make Congressional district maps easier to find online. She also delivered a piece of paper with Stephen Colbert's photo and "Better Know A District!" printed on top. It was referring to a recurring segment on The Colbert Report that humorously examined different Congressional districts. Though the segment was discontinued in 2014 when Colbert moved to The Late Show, Merrill hopes Colbert will revive it for District 23.
"Brenda Snipes won't allow us to better know our district," Merrill says. "I did it as a farce, but it's interesting that some of the Congressional maps online are the same age as the last retired episode [of The Colbert Report] from 2014."