Moneyball politics: Florida

February 6, 2020 by Sam Wang

I’m in Florida at an event with Katie Fahey, founder of Voters Not Politicians! Naturally we got to talking about redistricting reform.

Here at PEC, we’ve always been looking for ways to maximize the effectiveness of people’s donations and time. That means finding interventions that move probabilities the most, while costing the least. Usually, these are races and questions that are on a knife edge.

This year is a little different because the stakes are higher: Redistricting happens in 2021, which sets the maps for the next ten years.

Therefore whoever controls state legislatures is unusually important. Up to 1/3 of the seats in a chamber are under the control of whoever holds the redistricting pen. This means that the difference between single-party control and divided government can reverberate for a decade.

At the congressional level, funding even one congressional race can cost millions of dollars. And based on a recent estimate of a congressional seat changes following the 2020 census, Florida is estimated to gain two congressional seats (for a total of 29). Let’s say that even five of Florida’s congressional seats could be competitive or safely partisan, depending on who controls the process. Funding that many races for a decade would cost $25 million or more – and if there’s a gerrymander, your money would be wasted.

Although the state Supreme Court intervened to undo gerrymanders in 2013, a repeat of that may not occur because the court has taken a strong rightward turn.

Florida’s congressional district lines are drawn by the legislature and Governor, and legislative lines by the legislature alone. The Florida House, Senate, and Governor are Republican. Control of either chamber of the Florida General Assembly is a valuable prize. The Florida House of Representatives has 73 Republicans and 47 Democrats. Between the two, the state House of Representatives is more winnable: to change partisan control, 14 out of 120 seats would have to go from Republican to Democratic control. The resulting divided government would bring bipartisan rule to the Sunshine State.

The closest 14 Republican House seats we decided by an average margin of 2,200 votes. One answer would be to focus on these races. State legislative races usually cost considerably less than congressional races. I imagine competitive campaigns could be run in all of them for a few million dollars.

Normally I’d say that 14 seats is a lot to shift. But there’s a new population of potential voters, thanks to ex-felon reenfranchisement. Last year, Amendment 4 in Florida made 1.4 million people who had served their time eligible to vote again. However, the state legislature has passed a law stipulating that they have to pay all their outstanding fines. Statewide, that’s been estimated to be over $200 million.

But what if one targeted those 14 close districts? That would be much less expensive – an average of a few hundred dollars per person. There are about 12,000 such eligible people per district. Voting rights could be fully restored in all 14 districts for under $25 million.

Goal Thermometer

Those districts are equally valuable for either party. In principle, both major parties should make every effort to win them. Any money and effort spent there would be highly effective.

In a later post, I show you where those districts are. That post also identifies ways you can give (as always, links are given for Democrats, Republicans, and independents where possible.) For Democrats, suggestions are linked in the thermometer at left.


Jennifer Stearns Buttrick says:

Sam, We met at the conference on Wed. I would be very interested to see the list of 14 districts. Florida is really 50/50; the 2018 race for governor and senate resulted in statutorily mandated recounts, yet the legislature is overwhelmingly Republican. I do not know if this is the result of gerrymandering or the concentration of Democrats in more urban areas or a combination of both.
With regard to the ex-felons, the Florida Restoration of Rights Coalition, the group responsible for passing Amendment 4, ( is raising funds to help pay the fines and fees for ex-felons. The average ex-felon owes approximately $500 and my understanding is that the restitution component affects a very small number of ex-felons yet is the bulk of the money owed. They are also putting together a network of pro bono attorneys to work with ex-felons to help with the restoration of voting rights. Sometimes it is necessary to go through the courts to do so, and judges have been willing to waive fines and fees. Also, there is an issue with finding the ex-felons (FRRC is working on outreach as well), as this information is not readily available. And, as I mentioned, the literature in Florida for voter registration states that one of the requirements is that the registrant “Not be a person convicted of a felony without having your right to vote restored.” This language is followed by the following:
“Notice: It is a 3rd degree felony to submit false information. Maximum penalties are $5,000 and/or 5 years in prison.” Ex-felons are afraid to register. I would be happy to make an introduction to the Florida Restoration of Rights Coalition. Take care, Jennifer

Steve Hough says:

Hey Jennifer,
Margie Stein in Naples has the list.
I can connect you with her. Send me an email, please.
shough195 at gmail d0t com

Steve Hough says:

I have a friend and supporter of open primaries in Naples who worked with RepresentUs on ethics reform there. Coincidentally, she is also involved with a group attempting to employ the same strategy as you recommend.
I would love to put others in Florida in contact with her. I have already put her in touch with the former President of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Tampa, but have not talked to her in a while.
shough195 at gmail d0t com

Margie Stein says:

There is a plan with many identified state house districts in Florida. We are an affiliated giving circle raising money for Future Now Fund whose plan is to raise $7 million to fund initiatives in 8 states. I’d love to speak with you. Please write me back and I’ll explain in more detail. msteins53 at gmail d0t com

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