The Florida Senate rested its case in support of a proposed map during the second day of a redistricting trial Tuesday, as lawyers for voting-rights organizations prepared to grill the chief map-drawer for the chamber.
The main witness Tuesday was University of Utah political-science professor Baodong Liu, who questioned whether plans offered by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida would offer Hispanic and African-American voters a chance to elect candidates of their choice in some districts.
That requirement is part of the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments, which voters added to the state Constitution in 2010. An original Senate map, approved by lawmakers in 2012, has been set aside under an agreement between the voting-rights groups and the Legislature that acknowledged it would likely be struck down by the courts.
"They have a problem with the number of black majority districts drawn in the plans," Liu said of the voting-rights groups' four proposed maps. "However, if you look at the benchmark plan and the Senate plan proposed by Florida Senate, you see that the number of black majority districts is much better in the Senate plan compared to the alternative plan provided by the plaintiffs."
Liu also argued that because of voting patterns, Latinos need to comprise as much as 75 to 80 percent of the voting-age population to have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Only one of the districts under the plan favored by the voting-rights groups would meet that standard; the Senate plan has two that would clear that bar, and another where the Hispanic share of the voting-age population is 74.9 percent.
The voting-rights groups argue that its map has four districts that would likely elect candidates favored by Latinos with a smaller share of the population than Liu said is needed.
But Liu was briefly embarrassed in court when David King, a lawyer for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, noted that Liu wrongly noted in his report to the court that Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell, who is African-American, had lost her race. King had Russell's official website put on the screens around the courtroom.
"I'm suggesting to you, sir, that you're wrong about that," King said.
Liu said he depended on information he got from local sources to provide the races he used to analyze voting patterns in Florida elections.
"I cannot verify any election that I analyzed," he said. "I was told that this candidate was defeated. So that's what I listed."
The task of choosing among the Senate's proposed map and four submitted by King's clients has fallen to Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds, after the Legislature ended a November special session without agreeing to a plan for the chamber's 40 districts. Reynolds' decision ultimately will go to the Florida Supreme Court.
Depositions from Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, were also read in the courtroom Tuesday. Lee served on the Senate Reapportionment Committee, and Latvala was critical of a redistricting plan approved by the Senate during the unsuccessful special session.
On Wednesday, lawyers for the voting-rights organizations are expected to call Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who chairs the Reapportionment Committee. King said the testimony could give insights into the reasons Galvano, who chose the map submitted to the court, selected the plan that he did.
"I just think it's going to be very interesting, because he was the one guy that made all the decisions about the map," King told reporters Tuesday.