Florida judge approves new map for Congress

Published On: Aug 22 2014 04:14:48 PM EDT
Updated On: Aug 22 2014 05:44:41 PM EDT

Existing 5th Congressional District on left, approved proposal, right.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

A Florida judge on Friday gave his approval to a new congressional map that was redrawn by state legislators.
    
But Circuit Judge Terry Lewis also said that this year's elections -- early voting in the primary currently underway -- will not use the new boundaries. Instead voters will pick members of Congress based on a map he declared invalid back in July. Lewis opted against calling a special election based on the new map.

State legislators earlier this month altered seven of 27 congressional districts after Lewis ruled the districts had been illegally drawn to benefit Republicans.

The ruling affect the sprawling District 5 held by U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown that runs from Jacksonville to Orlando. Legislators altered seven of 27 districts in north and central Florida, including Brown's district, and the neighboring District 6, currently held by Ron DeSantis.

As president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, Duval County Election Supervisor Jerry Holland said the judge's decision to make the new districts effective in 2016 was appropriate because the 2014 election cycle had begun and holding a special election in 2015 was not a viable option.

"As supervisors, we stand up for the rights of the voters and are united to ensure fair, secure, transparent and accurate elections. Never before have supervisors been asked to consider redrawing election lines in the middle of an ongoing election," Holland said. "To rush or haphazardly conduct our elections would risk disenfranchisement particularly of our military voters, creating mass voter confusion, violating elections laws and transparency requirements, and compromising the integrity of our elections."

Lewis's ruling is considered a victory for the GOP-controlled Legislature, but means the legal battle could continue. Attorneys for the groups that sued the Legislature said recently they would not rule out the possibility of an appeal.

The coalition of groups that sued the Legislature contended Lewis should toss the revised version because it makes cosmetic changes. They still assert Democrats remain packed into the district in order to help adjacent GOP districts. As an alternative, the groups proposed shifting Brown's district to one that stretches from Duval and Nassau across North Florida to west of Tallahassee.

"We are disappointed and plan to ask the appellate courts to review Judge Lewis' ruling," League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre MacNab said late Friday.

"They never tried, they never considered any other alternative because the intent we established in the last trial is alive and well in the Florida Legislature," LWVF attorney David King told the judge during oral arguments Wednesday.

But George Meros, an attorney for the Florida House, argued legislators need to keep Brown's district running from north to south to ensure that blacks continue to have a chance to elect someone to Congress. The federal Voting Rights Act bars states from diluting the voting strength of minorities.

Meros said the goal of the groups who sued was to make it easier to elect white Democrats. He said that racial discrimination remains a problem in northeast Florida counties such as Alachua and Marion.

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