The Florida Legislature approved a new congressional map Monday evening and sent it to the governor's desk, although it's still unclear whether the new House district boundaries will past muster or take effect for the 2014 elections.
The newly passed map only makes minor changes to the congressional districts and is not expected to alter Florida's congressional delegation, where House Republicans currently outnumber Democrats, 17 to 10.
There are a number of ways the redistricting chaos could end , but the clock is ticking down to the Aug. 26 primary. Next week, a judge will rule whether the new lines are acceptable, and when voters will head to the polls.
Lawmakers returned to Tallahassee last week under a judge’s order to redraw the Sunshine state’s congressional districts. In July, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled two districts violated the state constitution , which prohibits drawing districts to favor a political party or incumbent. The new map alters seven districts, with changes focusing on the two deemed invalid in July: the 5th district, represented by Democrat Corrine Brown, and the 10th district, represented by Republican Daniel Webster.
Four Republican-held districts and one Democrat-held district would also be affected by the new lines. The GOP districts are represented by Ron DeSantis in the 6th; John Mica in the 7th; Rich Nugent in the 11th, and Tom Rooney in the 17th. The other Democrat affected by the new map is Alan Grayson in the 9th District.
“From the looks of it the districts are not changed very much,” a national Republican operative told CQ Roll Call when the map was revealed Thursday. “Without precinct breakdowns there’s no way of telling if the impact is significant or not. Looking at the map it doesn’t appear that it is.”
Dr. Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida, conducted an analysis of the new map and compared it to 2008 voting data. He also said there will not be a significant effect on Florida's House members.
“If Judge Lewis approves this map, there’s not going to be a huge change to the Florida congressional delegation,” said McDonald said in a Monday phone interview.
McDonald concluded the new map made Webster and Mica’s districts slightly more Democratic, but said they are still expected to lean Republican.
On Aug. 1, Judge Lewis issued an order setting an Aug. 15 deadline for the legislature to redraw the map and for state officials to develop a revised election schedule. A trial on the proposed map and schedule will take place on Aug. 20, with a ruling expected the following day.
The next step is for Lewis to evaluate the new map and decide whether the new districts will take effect in the 2014 cycle.
“Part of what the judge will be looking for, I’m sure, is a different process,” said Loyola University Law School professor Justin Levitt.
In his ruling, the judge took issue with political operatives’ influence in the redistricting process, writing that GOP operatives and consultants “made a mockery of the legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting.”
This time around lawmakers emphasized the process was insulated from political operatives, drawing the new map behind closed doors.
But Levitt pointed out that it’s unclear whether Lewis will take issue with the notion that the maps are fairly similar.
“Exactly how different he’s going to require these new maps to be is really impossible to say,” said Levitt, noting that there is not a distinct legal precedent for this type of case.
The upcoming trial will likely center around the 5th district. In the new map, the black voting age population was lowered from 49.9% to 48.1%.
After the legislature revealed its plan last week, the plaintiffs objected on the grounds that the 5th district’s basic shape was relatively unchanged.
“By packing minorities into such a north-south district, CD 5 in Map 9057 destroys the ability to create an additional district with significant minority voting strength in Central Florida,” the coalition plaintiffs said in a statement Friday.
But GOP lawmakers disagree. In a statement last week, Republican state Sen. Bill Galvano, the chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, said that “the district would still afford CD 5’s minority population the opportunity to elect a candidate of its choice.”
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