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Special Session In Tallahassee Not Likely To End Redistricting Lawsuits

Department of the Interior

The Florida Legislature will convene a special session Thursday in Tallahassee. It runs until noon August 15 or until lawmakers approve a new map of Florida’s congressional districts.

Voting rights groups claimed the boundaries, redrawn in 2012 as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process, violated the state’s Fair Districts constitutional amendments, which were approved by voters in 2010.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis agreed, ruling that two congressional districts -- represented by Jacksonville Democrat Corrine Brown and Winter Garden Republican Daniel Webster -- are unconstitutional because they were drawn to benefit the incumbents. So the entire congressional map must be redrawn.

Further complicating the process for Florida’s 67 supervisors of elections, absentee ballots for the August primary have already been mailed to more than a million Floridians as well as thousands of military personnel overseas.

We spoke with Dr. Susan MacManus, a well known political scientist and professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

How rare is this? Have other states dealt with this sort of thing or is Florida setting a precedent here?
Other states have had contested congressional [maps] as well as state Senate and state House maps. The unusual thing here is two-fold: the timing so close to an election when absentee ballots have already been mailed out and returned, and the constitutional amendment – the Fair Districts amendment -  which is unique, and if it is successful in Florida it will be implemented in a lot of other places.

One of the districts the judge cited belongs to Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown. Her district... stretches from Jacksonville to parts of Gainesville and Orlando. What’s interesting is that Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature is accused of drawing boundaries to help two incumbents – one of them a Democrat. Why might Republicans want to help a Democrat?

Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s district is a majority-minority district. The cause of the [snake-shaped] district goes back several decades, when the Supreme Court of the United States was ruling that states had to draw majority-minority districts where possible. So this has a long-standing status.

Brown says one of the reasons Florida redraws the voting maps every 10 years is to maintain minority access districts. Is she right?

It goes back to the federal Voting Rights Act. That has included minority access districts, which means that the composition of a district is such that minorities have an equal opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. So it goes back to a federal congressional act. Federal law on congressional elections trumps state law.

The Fair Districts amendments require the Legislature to draw districts that are compact and they shouldn’t favor an incumbent or a political party. Is that really possible, and do you think we’re looking at endless lawsuits here?

Many of the components of the Fair Districts amendments actually do conflict with each other, because also part of the Fair Districts amendments was that things would not be drawn to the detriment of minorities under the federal Voting Rights Act. It’s why so many people do expect that this case will not be end all case. It leaves a lot of people feeling that there’s not going to be a new resolution to this before the August 26 primary.