Florida lawmakers will start a special session Thursday to redraw congressional districts, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Sunday in a memo to House members.
The announcement came two days after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ordered lawmakers to redraw the districts and submit a map to him by Aug. 15. Lewis last month ruled that the current congressional map, which lawmakers approved in 2012, violated the Florida Constitution because it did not follow anti-gerrymandering rules approved by voters in 2010.
In his memo Sunday, Weatherford continued to object to the possibility that drawing new districts could affect the upcoming elections. Lewis on Friday also ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner and local elections supervisors to come up with a new voting schedule for any districts that lawmakers would have to redraw.
"We continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process,'' Weatherford wrote. "Florida?s Supervisors of Elections have raised serious concerns over changing the elections process at this late date."
The primary elections are Aug. 26, and the general election is Nov. 4. Legislative leaders have pointed, at least in part, to overseas and absentee ballots that have already gone out in advance of the primaries.
"Tens of thousands of our service men and women overseas have received their ballots, and over one million absentee ballots have been mailed to Floridians,'' Weatherford wrote in the memo. "Members, we intend to vigorously defend the integrity and validity of Floridians' votes that have already been and will be cast in the upcoming election."
But the League of Women Voters of Florida, one of the organizations that filed the challenge to the map, praised Lewis' ruling Friday.
"This is a champagne moment for Florida voters, who have waited too long for fairly drawn congressional districts," Deirdre Macnab, the group's president, said in a statement issued after the ruling. " ... We believe that the restoration of legitimate, representative democracy is well worth one extra trip to the polls."
Weatherford's memo said staff will provide detailed information Monday to House members about the special session. For many lawmakers, the special session will mean interrupting re-election campaigns to return to Tallahassee.
The speaker made clear in the memo that the session will be held for the "sole and exclusive" purpose of redrawing congressional districts, which would prevent any unrelated issues from being taken up.