Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is skeptical he can redraw the boundaries of the state’s congressional districts in time for the primary and general elections this year.
He has good reason for skepticism. Military ballots have already been mailed overseas, and local supervisors of elections are mailing ballots to voters in their counties and preparing early-voting sites in advance of the Aug. 26 primary election.
To put the brakes on that process and disrupt or delay the primary and general elections would be foolish. Although the legality of the district boundaries is clearly in question, it’s simply too late to pull back now.
He should allow the elections to proceed with the existing maps. If he does, we hope the parties that successfully challenged the maps will consider the chaos an immediate appeal will cause and accept that it’s too late. Holding the elections as scheduled will also allow time to redraw the lines, and to determine whether Lewis, the Legislature, an appointed third party, or the state’s highest court have that authority.
After they are redrawn, perhaps special elections can be held in the affected districts.
This unpleasant predicament can be laid at the feet of Republican lawmakers who participated in a stealth effort to rig the district maps to their advantage, a process known as gerrymandering. A lawsuit by the League of Women Voters and other voter-rights groups pulled the curtain back on the whole sordid affair.
After listening to testimony, Lewis ordered new boundaries for two congressional districts: one occupied by Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, and one occupied by Republican U.S. Rep Dan Webster in Central Florida.
Of course, changing the boundaries for two districts will result in changes to bordering districts. In hearings last week, Lewis was asked by the voter-rights groups to redraw the boundaries before the primary. They make a valid argument that the congressional map is unconstitutional and should immediately be redrawn.
But counterarguments by the state and the state’s supervisors of elections are more grounded in reality. They point out that some military members have already returned mail-in ballots. And this week, when Lewis is expected to make his decision, mail-in ballots sent to voters living in Florida may also start arriving in the mail.
For all intents and purposes, the 2014 primary election is under way.
Allowing the district boundaries to stand for the 2014 elections could be seen as a victory of sorts to the lawmakers who rigged the redistricting process to give their party an advantage. But holding special elections in the spring after the congressional boundaries are properly set could fix that problem.
Even if the flawed districts must exist until the 2016 elections, that is better than throwing this year’s election into chaos. The important thing is that a fix is in the works.
The conduct of the lawmakers behind this redistricting fiasco, and the looming primary, leave Lewis with nothing but bad choices. But the best of those bad choices is to let the 2014 elections proceed. The voter-rights forces have won the war; they should resist engaging in another legal battle at this late date.