By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary

The Florida Senate has released its first eight drafts of map proposals for congressional and Senate redistricting, and the first signs are that the maps won’t be the gerrymandered nightmare that other states have pushed or that fair-districts advocates feared.

“This is surprising,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who specializes in redistricting. “This looks like an attempt to comply with the Fair Districts Amendments while trying to eke out as much advantage as they can. … This isn’t the bloodbath we’re seeing in other states.”

A decade ago, Florida voters approved amendments to the state Constitution, requiring compact shapes, no favoring incumbents or political parties and no denying equal opportunities racial or language minorities.

The four congressional proposals differ only slightly from each other, and the four state senate proposals are mostly the same.

Joe Biden would’ve won 12 of the 28 congressional districts in the maps, while Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson, in their bids for governor and senate in 2018, would’ve won 14 of the 28 seats. Democrat Hillary Clinton actually would’ve won a majority of the seats, 15, in 2016, due to her strong performance in Miami-Dade County.

Under the current map of 27 seats, Biden won 12 seats and Gillum, Nelson and Clinton won 13.

Redistricting chair Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Estero, said that committee staff who drew the maps “faithfully adhered to the objective standards that were provided to them by the Senate Committee on Reapportionment. I look forward to the process continuing as the subcommittees further refine the maps.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson said he hasn’t yet reviewed the maps, but a spokeswoman said that “he looks forward to doing so and watching the public workshops next week.”

Under these proposals, if Democrats recover in Miami-Dade, where Donald Trump did much better in 2020 than he did in 2016, they could actually win a majority of congressional seats even while losing statewide. But if Republicans continue to gain in Miami-Dade and with Hispanic voters statewide, Democrats will struggle.

The Florida Senate maps similarly appear to have fairly proportional results, though less so than the congressional maps.

The most notable split of a community appears in Gainesville, which is split between Senate District 8 and Senate District 5. For years, Democrats have targeted Senate District 8 as a potential pickup in the Legislature with the district voting for statewide Democrats. In the most recent election, an independent candidate gained votes from Black residents, which helped Republican Sen. Keith Perry win re-election.

In the new proposal, both Senate District 8 and Senate District 5 will become solidly Republican.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who sits on the Florida Senate redistricting committee, said she would like Gainesville to stay intact in one district, but outside of that, at first glance, the state senate map appears visually compact.

“This start is a good start,” she said.

Yet another Democratic pickup target, Senate District 9 in Seminole County, actually becomes more Democratic in this proposal as it dips down into Orange County and out of the northern more Republican-friendly parts of Seminole County. Gillum, Nelson and Biden would’ve won this version of the district.

Overall, Biden would’ve won 16 of the 40 senate districts, while Clinton, Gillum and Nelson each would’ve won 18 districts. Clinton also would have come within 0.2 percentage points of winning a 19th district, even as she lost statewide.

Again, the map proposals appear to favor Republicans more if they maintain their strong performance in Miami-Dade, but if Democrats can recover with Hispanic voters, then they would stand a better chance of winning half of the seats.

It will be harder for Democrats to win a majority of the state senate seats, even if they in statewide, than the congressional seats.

Under the current maps, Biden won 18 of 40 districts while Clinton, Gillum and Nelson each won 19 districts.

“It’s not an aggressive gerrymander, but it’s still a gerrymander,” said McDonald, the redistricting expert. He said one thing to note in the maps is how in Miami-Dade districts combine high-propensity Cuban voters, who are more likely to vote Republican, with lower propensity Hispanic voters who might be more likely to vote Democratic.

In mid-terms and lower-turnout elections, McDonald said, this could favor Republicans.

Still, while he said he’ll reserve final judgment, he said that fair-districts advocates should be “overall fairly pleased with this map,” and it’s a sign that the constitutional amendments are working as designed.

“The districts themselves, they look like they’ve really tried to follow county boundaries and locality boundaries. They didn’t use this as an opportunity to split up everything we can.”

The Florida House redistricting committee staff also must draw congressional maps, and the committee will draw its proposal for house districts.

After the last redistricting failed to comply with the constitutional standards, the Florida Supreme Court ordered new maps for the state senate and congressional maps, but it never ordered new maps for the house districts.

McDonald has requested the underlying data used by the Florida Legislature’s redistricting app but hasn’t yet received it.

For example, to test whether a map allows minority racial groups an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, analysts look at more than just the demographics of the district. If it’s a safe Democratic or safe Republican seat, they also want to know what percent of the primary voters belonged to that racial group. They also would want to run a mathematical analysis to see how often voters in a racial group vote as a bloc.

So far, the Florida Legislature’s redistricting app will produce spreadsheets that share the racial percentages of primary voters, but it doesn’t disaggregate the data to the census block or precinct level, which is necessary to run that analysis.

“We still haven’t seen the underlying performance data, the raw data,” said Daniel Smith, UF’s political science chair. “It would be nice to validate the raw, underlying data.

Smith and McDonald, along with another professor, were recently barred by UF from testifying as an expert witness in a separate voting-rights case. The university, facing an inquiry from an accrediting agency and pressure from its faculty union, eventually reversed its decision.

This is Changing Florida, a Tributary newsletter keeping you up to date on redistricting, demographics and the fight for political power in the Sunshine State.

To make sure you don’t miss out on an issue, click here to subscribe now and play a part in ensuring fair districts for all of Florida. Click here to read our archives.

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If you have questions about redistricting or the Census, you can send them to us by clicking here.

On The Calendar

The Jacksonville City Council is expected to formally introduce legislation adopting maps on Dec. 14.

The Florida House Redistricting Committee and its two subcommittees do not have any meetings currently scheduled.

The Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee will now delegate tasks to its subcommittees.

The Florida Senate Subcommittee on Congressional Reapportionment will meet next Tuesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Florida Senate Subcommittee on Legislative Reapportionment will meet next Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

You can find past meetings on The Florida Channel, which will also live-stream the meetings.

Submit your maps

We want to see what you think Jacksonville’s 14 City Council districts should look like.

Here’s how you can get started drawing your own maps.

  • Go to DavesRedistricting.org.
  • Create an account.
  • Go to DavesRedistricting.org/maps.
  • Select New Map.
  • Choose Florida as your state.
  • Select “Other” as your plan type.
  • Restrict to Duval.
  • Select 14 districts.
  • Click apply and it will take you to a new screen where you can begin drawing districts.

When you’re done, send a link to your map to info@jaxtrib.org, so we can feature your map in a future newsletter.

Andrew Pantazi edits and reports for The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He is a Jacksonville...