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Supervisors say special congressional elections could be held in March and May

Florida's congressional districts won't change by November and new elections can't be held until next year, the state's top elections officials told a circuit court judge on Friday.

Responding to a court order to have a proposal in place by noon today, the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections, in conjunction with the Florida Secretary of State, concluded that the earliest date they could conduct a special election in the 25 counties affected by the new congressional districts would be in March 17, with a general election to follow on May 26.  Download Response.Sec.of.State

"We have submitted a timeline that we believe is swift, feasible, follows election laws and ensures voter enfranchisement while providing fair, accurate and transparent elections,” said Jerry Holland, Duval County supervisor of elections president of the association.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ordered the elections officials to present him with the plan by Aug. 15 when he ordered the Florida Legislature to redraw 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.

Holland said that Lewis had said that "the cure should not be worse than the illness" and the elections officials have since been working to "explore elections scenarios from combining existing election schedules to creating a new accurate timeline that would allow for alternative congressional elections should the judge choose to make such an order,'' he said.  Download STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT OF THE FL SUPERVISORS OF ELECTIONS

But the supervisors conceded there will be no quick remedies. They rejected claims by the coalition of voters groups who argued that a special elections could be held this year -- either simultaneously with the general election or after it, said Ron Labasky, general counsel of the association. 

"We're not capable of doing that based upon the way the equipment works and the technology that's involved,'' he told the Herald/Times. 

The supervisors must close out the Nov. 4 general elections and clear their computers, he said, making the earliest day they could begin plans for a special election Dec. 18.  Download Election Calendar - for Re-redistricting Final 8.15.14

The supervisors recommended that a primary for the disputed congressional district could be conducted 77 days after that -- March 17 -- and a general election could be held in May. They did not present any proposals on what the pending cost might be.  Download EXHIBIT B Final 8.15.14

That schedule is longer than the one used in 2011, when a special election was held after former state Sen. Frederica Wilson was elected to Congress in November 2010. The primary election to replace her in the state Senate was held on Feb. 8, 2011, and the general election was held on March 1.  

Plaintiffs, who succeeded in persuading Lewis that two districts were unconstitutionally drawn for partisan intent, argue that a special election should be held before the November election, so that voters do not elect candidate to invalid districts. Lewis has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 20 to hear arguments on the issue.

Lewis invalidated the state's congressional map and ordered the two districts redrawn because they violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Fair District amendments to the Florida constitution. He blasted legislators for allowing poltiical consultants to infiltrate the redistricting process making "a mockery" of their claims of transparency.

Florida lawmakers held a three-day special session that concluded on Monday to revise the map. They tinkered with the boundaries, shifting 368,000 people and submitted the final version to the court today. If approved by the judge, the map changes the existing boundaries in 25 counties and seven of the state's 27 congressional districts where the special elections would have to be held.  Download Final remedial plan Legislature

Legislators told the court they advised legislators to refrain from any discussions with political operatives, and barred staff and key leaders from the same so that "the new districts were untainted,'' the Legislature's lawyers wrote in their response to the court.

"The Remedial Plan was drawn by John Guthrie and Jason Poreda, in collaboration with Raoul Cantero, George Meros, Andy Bardos, George Levesque, and Dan Nordby as legal counsel for the House and Senate,'' the legislature's response said. "It was drawn in a single day, in an environment free from partisan calculation and impervious to all improper influence."

They touted the process that created the new map as "a legal process—not a political one. The Court’s findings and conclusions were the polestar that directed the process. The Legislature relied on professional staff—whose integrity this Court vindicated from Plaintiffs’ attacks—and onlegal counsel to provide an effective and appropriate remedy."

Legislators also noted that the plaintiffs vigorously criticized their attempts to slightly modify the map to accommodate the judge's concerns and offered an alternative map but chided them for not getting legislative support to present the map.

"Though represented by lobbyists experienced and skilled in the legislative process, the League of Women Voters of Florida could not find a single member willing to introduce its plan for consideration," the Legislature said.