(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature on Monday swiftly approved new maps that will alter several of the state’s congressional districts after a judge ruled the current districts were illegally drawn to benefit the GOP.
The changes would alter seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts, but it’s not certain if the revised map will change the makeup of Florida’s congressional delegation. Republicans currently hold a 17-10 edge.
The vote was largely along partisan lines as Democrats complained that the new map still doesn’t reflect that Florida is a battleground state with a divided electorate. The Senate passed the measure 25-12 with the House following by a 71-38 vote.
“What we’ve done is really just window dressing,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.
Legislators held a three-day special session to fix the congressional map after Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that two districts were drawn illegally. Lewis gave legislators until Aug. 15 to draw a new map.
Republicans who led the effort to draw the new map contended that the changes should pass muster with the judge.
“It’s an excellent map that should comply with the judge’s order,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes and chairman of the committee that came up with the revised districts.
Even with new districts in place, it’s not clear when they will be implemented. Lewis must still decide whether to call a special election for later this year. Legislative leaders have said they plan to oppose any effort to call one.
Voters in 2010 passed the “Fair Districts” amendment that says legislators cannot draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party, a practice known as “gerrymandering.” A coalition of groups, including the League of Women Voters, contended that the GOP consultants used a “shadow” process to draw districts that benefited Republicans.
Lewis agreed there was enough evidence to show that consultants helped make a “mockery” of the process and ruled that two districts were invalid. The two districts flagged by Lewis are a sprawling district that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando and is held by U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, a Democrat, and a central Florida district held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.
The new map alters those two districts, but also changes the boundaries for five other districts located in north and central Florida.
Senate Democrats offered their own alternate map that changed just three districts, but it was voted down on a 25-12 vote. Republicans contended that the Democratic map was unconstitutional because it lowered the number of black voters in Brown’s district. The federal Voting Rights Act bars states from diluting the voting strength of minorities.