August 22, 2014

Judge approves legislature's fix for congressional maps, calls no special election

RedistrictOldNew

Florida’s flawed congressional districts may remain in place for two more years and newly drawn boundaries for seven north and central districts don’t have to take effect until 2016, a Tallahassee circuit court judge ruled late Friday.

Judge Terry Lewis upheld the revisions to the state’s congressional map approved by the Florida Legislature during a three-day special session earlier this month. But he said the current configuration, which he ruled unconstitutional a month ago, could stand for the 2014 election.

“An election in 2015 is not a viable option,’’ Lewis wrote in his four-page order. “The 2014 elections will have to be held under the map as enacted in 2012.

That will come as a relief to U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, whose congressional districts were the target of the court’s criticism. Brown and Webster feared being elected to a new term in November only to have to face a special election possibly next year under the newly configured boundaries.

Lewis ruled on July 10 that congressional districts 5 and 10 violated the state’s Fair District rules against political gerrymandering. He then gave legislators until Aug. 15 to modify the map and fix two districts in particular. Lawmakers responded by calling a rare summer-time special session and modified seven of the state’s 27 districts, then appealed to the court to approve it.

Although the judge validated the legislature’s map, the fight is not over.

David King, lawyer for the League of Women Voters, one of the voters groups that challenged the districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature, said they were disappointed in the ruling and will appeal.

Anticipatingn a protracted dispute, Webster recently set up a legal defense fund to help him finance any court fights that may emerge over his district.

Lewis wrote that he disagreed with the voters coaltion that argued the changes made to the original map were superficial and did not cure the flaws to Districts 5 and 10 and concluded that the Legislature’s “remedial plan adequately addresses the constitutional deficiences I found in the Final Judgment.”

He also rejected calls from the plaintiffs to create an east-west minority district that would stretch across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. They argued it would allow minority voters to elect two blacks to Congress instead of one but, under the plan, Brown’s districtg would be dismantled and a new Orlando-based minority district would emerge as a coalition district for both Hispanics and African American voters.

“The Legislature is not required, however, to produce a map that the Plaintiffs, or I , or anyone else might prefer,’’ Lewis wrote. “The Legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the Constitution.”

He noted that the plaintiffs “have not offered convincing evidence that an East-West configuration is necessary in order to comply” with the terms of the Fair Districts amendment approved by voters in 2010.

Lewis also rejected calls for a special session to implement the new map. He said that the plaintiffs “offered absolutely no evidence” to support their arguments that a special election could reasonably be held in time for the 2014 elections and thereby allowed the invalidated districts to remain in place until 2016.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was thrilled with the ruling and even sounded happy the Legislature got a do-over.

“I am pleased with Judge Lewis’ speedy, thoughtful and conscientious decision,’’ he said in a statement. “I am especially relieved that our overseas military voters and those Floridians who cast their ballots early will have their votes counted this election. You know, sometimes life affords you second chances; I am glad we got it right on the second round.”

Here's the opinion:  Download Romo.Order Approving Remedial Redistricting Plan

 

 

August 20, 2014

Legislative lawyers detail role of national Democratic operatives in redistricting feud

Democratic operatives working for two national groups played a significant role in helping one set of plaintiffs in Florida's redistricting trial draw alternative maps that are now being offered as an alternative for the court to consider, according to depositions made public Wednesday in the trial.

The depositions were cited at a hearing before Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis by George Meros, a lawyer for the Florida House of Representatives. Meros worked to discredit a map presented by the the Romo plaintiffs, one of the voters groups that brought the lawsuit. The other group of plaintiffs is led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. 

This is the second time that Democratic political operatives were found to be as interested in gerrymandering their districts as Republican operatives were accused of doing for their maps. According to records released last year, Florida Democrats plotted with congressional leaders and political consultants to redraw congressional districts to benefit their party, according to new court records that show they were just as interested in gerrymandering as Republicans.

Lewis ruled on July 10 that Republican legislative leaders allowed GOP political operatives to "infiltrate" the redistricting process and "making a mockery" of their claims of transparency. Unlike the Republicans, however, the Democrats do not control the Legislative process and there is no evidence to show that the maps drawn by their operatives were ever voted on by lawmakers. They have relied on the court as the venue for them to make their case about alternative maps. 

The plaintiffs now want Lewis to consider their map as an alternative to the one drawn by the Republican-led Legislature last week. Mero said the testimony showed that the map was drawn by Eric Hawkins, a consultant to the National Committee for an Effective Congress, a Washington-based consulting firm organization that works to elect Democrats.

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August 18, 2014

Plaintiffs oppose redrawn congressional map, ask the court to draw districts

 RedistrictOldNewArguing that a newly drawn District 5 will establish a benchmark district "further entrenching the Republican Party in its position of power" the voters groups that brought the lawsuit against the Legislature are asking a judge to draw new congressional districts that would take effect this elections cycle in documents filed today.

"The Revised Plan emerged fully formed from a series of meetings held behind closed doors and then sailed through the special session without modifications while any opposing voices were ridiculed, distorted, or simply ignored,'' writes the lawyers for the group of voters led by the League of Women voters and Common Cause of Florida.

"The dispute over the Revised Plan centers primarily around District 5 and its surrounding districts. Legislative Defendants have again adopted a snakelike north-south configuration of the district that marginalizes minorities by concentrating them into a single district, harms tier-two compliance overall, and conspicuously benefits Republicans in surrounding areas." Here's the brief:  Download 2014 08-18 Jt-Objection to Defs Remedial Map (9057)

Graphic: Legislative congressoinal plans old and new

August 14, 2014

Secretary says he's on track to meet noon deadline for congressional elections plan

Florida’s top elections official said Thursday he is prepared to meet the noon deadline Friday to present a proposed special election schedule for the new congressional districts passed by the Florida Legislature this week. 

Secretary of State Ken Detzner told supervisors of elections on a conference call Thursday that he was preparing “to give the court our definition of what it would take to run an election with regard the new maps.”

Legislators hope the judge rejects the options, and they expect Detzner to show how costly it will be to hold special elections in seven counties for seven slightly-modified congressional districts.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis invalidated the first map and ordered Detzner to propose a new elections schedule. He concluded that two districts, District 5, represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and District 10, represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, were improperly drawn with the intent to benefit Republicans.

The legislature concluded its three-day special session on Monday, revising seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts in response after its original map was declared an improper partisan gerrymander. Gov. Rick Scott signed the plan into law on Wednesday.

Although legislators remain confident that the new map will be approved by Lewis, two voting-rights groups that brought the lawsuit challenging the original districts said they will fight to have the new map rejected.

"We are disappointed to see that the remedial map approved this week by the Florida Legislature looks suspiciously like the map that Judge Lewis ruled unconstitutional and the fact that it was drawn behind closed doors only adds to the suspicion," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida in a statement.

"The Legislature has a duty to abide by the Constitution, which they swore to uphold and enforce," said Peter Butzin, chairman of Common Cause Florida. "We believe they have once again fallen fall short of their sworn duty, and we will continue to urge Judge Lewis to adopt a constitutionally compliant map for the 2014 elections." 

-- Staff Writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report

August 11, 2014

Redistricting session ends but challenges to map likely to continue

RedistrictOldNew@MaryEllenKlas and @MikeVanSickler

Florida legislators completed their hasty fix of a congressional redistricting map Monday, sending the plan on to Gov. Rick Scott for approval as they scramble to meet Friday’s deadline set by a state court.

In an attempt to address the concerns by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis - who said the map violated a constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering - the legislature moved 368,000 voters in North and Central Florida into new districts as it changed the boundaries of seven congressional seats.

The House and Senate voted for the map along party lines, as a handful of Jacksonville Democrats voted with Republicans in solidarity with U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat whose winding district was invalidated because it packed Democrats voters into the district so that Republicans in surrounding districts would face less competition.

The new map makes the biggest changes to the districts now held by Brown, John Mica, R-Orlando, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. Lewis ordered the Legislature to fix Districts 5 and 10, held by Brown and Webster, by Friday, saying they were in violation of the state’s Fair Districts rules.

No South Florida districts were modified. Story here.

 

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August 08, 2014

House Republicans say no to putting redistricting witnesses under oath

House remdial map 9057Partisan fire-fights continued Friday over redistricting as House Republicans rejected an effort by House Democrats to have each of the witnesses testifying about the proposed congressional map sworn in under oath. 

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, made a motion shortly after the House Redistricting Committee convened today. He moved to have any presenters before the committee put under oath since the map remains the subject of a pending court case. The committee, which is dominated by Republicans, rejected the motion on a party-line vote.

The committee is hearing a proposal to fix the congressional map that a judge declared unconstitutional last week. The map was created on Wednesday at a meeting behind closed doors, with no public input or record keeping, between the chairman of the House and Senate redistricting committees, their staff and outside legal counsel, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters on Thursday.

The plan, which changes seven of the state's 27 districts, will be voted on and passed likely along party line votes in the GOP dominated committees today. Here's more on the proposed maps. 

Map above is the proposed deal. Here's a link to the detail: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Redistricting/Plan/H000C9057

August 07, 2014

Maps are starting to emerge as proposed fixes to Florida's flawed maps

Plaintiffs remedial mapThe Florida House has proposed a map with minor fixes aimed at repairing the broken congressional redistricting map.

Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has submitted his own proposal to repair the map. State Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, and his aide have drawn map also aimed at fixing the flaws. 

And the group of left-leaning voting groups who filed the lawsuit and successfully persuaded a judge to throw out two of the state's 27 districts offer a detailed new map. It includes a new east-west District 5, which is now held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, that they say will increase the opportunities for minorities to elect a candidate in Central Florida.

The House and Senate redistricting committees, both dominated by Republicans, will decide which of the proposed maps to adopt at meetings tomorrow. The big question: how vast will the changes be to the controversial 10-county district held by Brown.  House remdial map 9057

Map 1: Plaintiff's proposed fix; Map 2: House proposed new map

The House and Soto make minor changes to Brown's district and Soto's map makes two other districts, those held by Republican Reps. Dan Webster of Winter Garden and John Mica of Orlando, equally split between Democrats and Republicans.

Galvano's also makes minor changes, preserving most of the meandering district but taking out the black Democrats added to it in an effort to bleach neighboring districts to favor Webster and Mica.

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August 06, 2014

Legislators hope to make quick work of session to fix flawed map

Florida Capitol complexFlorida legislators will convene a rare summer special session Thursday with the goal of making quick work of a court-ordered fix to the congressional redistricting map.

Legislators will convene at noon, meet briefly and then adjourn to let the House and Senate redistricting committees hold a joint meeting to hear legislative lawyers explain their options for fixing a the congressional boundaries ruled unconstitutional by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis last month.

Lewis gave lawmakers an Aug. 15 deadline to repair two congressional districts – held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-WinterGarden. Although lawmakers have called the session to last a week, they expect to be finished by late Monday or early Tuesday.

Lewis ruled that the districts violated the Fair Districts rules of the state constitution and said he expects lawmakers to make Brown’s sprawling 10-county district more compact, while preserving the ability of African American voters to select a candidate of their choice, and to remove an “appendage” in the Webster district that gave an advantage to Republicans.

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August 05, 2014

Supervisors: special election is possible this year for revised congressional districts

Coalition proposed remedial mapElections officials in the counties facing redrawn congressional districts concluded on Tuesday that, contrary to arguments of Republican legislators, the state could conduct special elections for a handful of districts this year – but winners would not be chosen until after Nov. 4.

By postponing the primary and general elections for as many as 10 congressional seats in North and Central Florida, Florida could again become the last state in the nation to announce its elections results. But, officials said, it may be the only option to avoid electing candidates to Congress from unconstitutional districts.

“We decided we can do a special primary post the November election – there is a window of opportunity – but we need to decide what are those dates,’’ said Jerry Holland, supervisor of elections for Duval County and head of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections.

Elections for all other congressional districts that are unchanged by the map -- and all other races on the ballot -- will continue as planned under the current election schedule.

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