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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Judge urged to redraw redistricting maps

A coalition of plaintiffs has asked a Tallahassee judge to redraw the state’s congressional maps and implement them for the 2014 midterm election.

That request came from the plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters of Florida, who successfully challenged the state’s congressional maps in court.

Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled in July that two of the state’s 27 congressional districts were drawn to favor Republicans, which isn’t allowed under the fair district anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state constitution.

As a result of the Tallahassee-area judge’s ruling, lawmakers held a five-day special session to redraw the congressional lines. Those redrawn maps are opposed by the plaintiffs, who formalized their concern in a 35-page objection filed Monday with the judge.

“Despite being given the opportunity to right the wrong they committed, … legislative defendants have squandered that opportunity by adopting a revised plan with minimal changes,” the objection states.

The plaintiffs are asking Lewis to redraw the maps and call special election dates for the affected seats so there is time to replace the maps that were found unconstitutional.

The coalition of plaintiffs takes issue with the new maps because they were drawn in closed meetings by state Rep. Richard Corcoran, of Trinity, and state Sen. Bill Galvano, of Bradenton, both Republicans, on the opening day of the special session. Each was picked by legislative leadership to head their respective chamber’s redistricting efforts.

During the special session, Republicans argued that all bills are crafted by House and Senate sponsors before they are presented to other members, who can debate and try to amend them.

“There is zero chance they won’t be able to ask a question they want. I just want them to do it through the committee structure,” Corcoran told House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, shortly after the special session began.

State leaders also have argued there isn’t enough time to use redrawn maps for the 2014 election and that doing so would disenfranchise voters who already cast ballots by mail. In a filing with the judge Friday, they laid out a special election schedule that they said shows an election can’t legally be held until the spring. The plaintiffs disagree with that assertion.

Much of the attention has been focused on Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando. In the Legislature’s redrawn map, it maintains its initial shape but has a greater reliance on the St. Johns River as a geographic boundary, which increased its compactness.

Democrats contend that Republican map-drawers have “packed” Democratic-leaning black voters in the seat, held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, to make surrounding seats more Republican-leaning. Legislative leaders said that during the 2012 redistricting process, they were only trying to keep Brown’s black voting-age population above 50 percent to avoid a race-based legal challenge to the map.

The newly drawn maps lowered the black voting-age population to 49 percent, which Brown and the NAACP oppose. Maps drawn by the plaintiffs completely redraw Brown’s seat, stretching it from Jacksonville to Leon County along the Georgia border. It lowers the seat’s black voting-age population to 44 percent.

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