Circuit Judge Terry Lewis has taken a reasonable first step toward resolving the election mess caused by the Legislature’s misconduct in redrawing the state’s congressional districts.
His decision is unsatisfying, but understandable. As he noted, there are no good options — thanks to the lawmakers abusing the redistricting process.
Lewis ruled Friday that the Legislature should immediately redraw the boundaries of the two districts he found to be unconstitutional under the rules established by the Fair Districts amendments voters approved in 2010.
He also opened the door for delaying the Nov. 4 general election in the districts affected by the new boundaries and ordered the state’s secretary of state and local elections supervisors to collaborate on the dates for a possible special election.
Can new boundaries be drawn and approved and a special election held before the new Congress takes office in January?
It appears Lewis is taking his best shot at making that happen. He concedes the impossibility of getting new congressional maps redrawn quickly enough for the Nov. 4 general election, but is holding out hope that lawmakers can deliver constitutionally sound maps in time to hold a special election in the affected districts before January.
Although we remain skeptical, we hope that possibility plays out and that the sordid affair can be ended in months, rather than years.
Lawmakers should not resort to further litigation. They should work to devise districts that conform to the 2010 constitutional amendments, which require districts be drawn fairly without benefit to an incumbent or political party.
Last month, Lewis found that two congressional districts had been improperly drawn by lawmakers. The district occupied by Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, which stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, and another by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, in Central Florida, now must be redrawn.
But redrawing those districts will mean redrawing boundaries in the bordering districts affected by the changes. How many districts will be affected will be determined by how the new maps are drawn.
Lewis’ order makes it clear that he wants to spare voters the indignity of casting a ballot for a congressional candidate running in a district he has determined is unconstitutional. To do nothing at this point and hold the general election, his order says, “means that you lessen the ability of many citizens to fairly elect a representative of their choice.”
Lawmakers have two weeks to redraw the maps. Elections officials have two weeks to submit dates for a special election. Oral arguments to hear any objections will be held in less than three weeks.
That’s an incredibly tight time line, but the only realistic chance the state has to avoid holding an election with unconstitutional congressional maps.