By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary

New Florida House map proposals would extend Republican advantages in the statehouse and build those advantages in Congress if passed. They may also hurt Black voters’ chances at electing candidates of their choice.

The Florida House released its first four drafts of map proposals for congressional and House redistricting on Monday. Unlike the Florida Senate proposals, which surprised even some Democrats with how fair they appeared, these maps sparked major concerns from Democratic groups.

“The FL House’s Congressional Plans are Out – and they are terrible,” wrote political consultant Matt Isbell.

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and redistricting committee chairman Republican Tom Leek discouraged members from talking about the maps.

The Florida House maps use different numbering conventions than the Florida Senate’s, and they used a five-percent population deviation range for House districts. In contrast, the Senate used a one-percent range. Both the state and federal constitutions require districts that are roughly equal in population, but governments have some leeway in how much they allow differing populations.

Senate President Wilton Simpson said he had not yet reviewed the house maps. Leek defended the maps in a statement.

He said: “Yesterday the Florida House released workshop redistricting maps for both State House and Congressional districts. These maps have been drawn by staff in alignment with the standards of Florida’s Constitution and other applicable law. The goal of workshopping these draft maps in this week’s subcommittee meetings is to allow committee members the opportunity to learn about the policy options presented in each map, ask questions, and hear public testimony. I look forward to these next steps of the redistricting process.”

In one version of the House-proposed congressional maps, Joe Biden would’ve won 10 out of 28 districts last year. In the other, Biden would’ve won 11 districts.

In the current maps, Biden won 12 out of 27 districts. In the Senate proposed maps, he would’ve won 12 out of 28 districts and just about tied Donald Trump in a 13th district.

Using an analysis of six major statewide races from 2016 to 2020 (U.S. senate, president, governor, attorney general, senate again and president again), Democrats would’ve won at least four times in 13 districts in one proposal and 12 districts in the other.

Under the Senate proposal, Democrats would’ve won at least four times in 14 districts and once in a 15th district.

“Follow both [state and federal] constitutions, and the maps will be more representative,” said House Minority Leader Evan Jenne, who said he had concerns about the proposals.

Jenne said Democratic staff are still reviewing the map proposals, and “we’re really concerned about minority-access seats.”

A decade ago, Florida voters approved amendments to the state Constitution. Those amendments require compact districts that don’t favor incumbents or political parties and don’t deny equal opportunities to racial or language minorities.

Both the House and Senate redistricting staff have not explained why they drew minority-opportunity districts the way they did. Under the House proposals, four state house districts are right at the line of 50 percent Black voting-age population, suggesting the staff used a 50-percent quota.

The proposal would keep two primarily Black districts in Duval County instead of drawing a third. Currently, about 49 percent of the voting-age population in House District 13 is Black, and 53 percent in House District 14 is. The new proposals would ensure both were above 50 percent, even though there’s no indication that’s necessary. Black voters have elected candidates of their choice with lower percentages in Duval when they made up majorities in Democratic primaries.

If the staff accepted districts that were less than 50 percent Black voting-age population — currently, Jacksonville is home to a congressional district and a state Senate district that are both less than 50 percent Black yet consistently elect Black candidates — then a third Black seat in Jacksonville would be possible.

Federal courts have decried the use of quotas and have said that governments should conduct analyses to determine what racial-minority percentages are actually needed for different districts, said Mike McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist specializing in redistricting.

Courts have struck down maps that used quotas to unnecessarily pack in too many voters from a minority racial group. That sort of packing can dilute Black, Hispanic or Asian voting power.

“That was clearly some bad advice given to the Florida state house in drawing those maps,” McDonald said. “It looks like a Republican gerrymander. There are places here where we can point to where it looks like there has been some intention to eke out a partisan advantage.”

In Orlando, the more Republican-friendly congressional proposal takes the 10th Congressional District, currently represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, and reduces its Black population and makes it more Democratic. As the new 7th Congressional District, it both reduces the number of Democratic representatives and makes it so Black voters no longer make up a majority of the Democratic primary.

“Accepting that map would be clear favoring a political party and disfavoring a political party,” McDonald said.

In the other proposal, the 7th and 10th Congressional Districts both remain Democratic, and the Black share of the 10th District actually increases.

While the congressional maps look like they’d favor Republicans more than the current ones, the state house districts could bring a marginal improvement to Democrats.

Using the analysis of six major statewide races from 2016 to 2020, Democratic candidates won 47 out of 120 house districts at least four times under the current maps. Under one of the new proposals, they won 49, and in the other proposal, they won 52.

In the first proposal, Democrats won 64 of the 120 districts at least once. In the second proposal, they won 61 districts, with many one-time Democratic wins coming from South Florida in 2016 when Hillary Clinton did better than Democrats usually do in Miami-Dade.

McDonald said he requested the underlying block-level voting data that the Legislature is using more than a month ago, yet it still hasn’t provided it. That data is essential to conducting mathematical analyses that can show how voters from different racial backgrounds vote.

To consider race in drawing districts, the Legislature must prove a few things: that a minority racial group votes consistently as a bloc, that a majority racial group also votes consistently enough as a bloc that it can deny the minority group’s preferred candidates chances at winning and that it’s possible to draw districts with the minority group in the majority.

Experts like McDonald use precinct-level and block-level analysis to prove whether or not voters from different backgrounds actually vote in blocs. And if the Legislature is trying to draw coalition districts, where it assumes multiple minority racial groups vote together in coalitions, then that also needs to be shown through the data, McDonald said.

The Florida House redistricting subcommittees meet next on Thursday and Friday.

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.

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On The Calendar

The Jacksonville City Council redistricting committee will vote to introduce legislation adopting city maps on Dec. 6 from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The Florida House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee will meet Thursday, Dec. 2, at 1 p.m.

The Florida House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee will meet Friday, Dec. 3, at 9 a.m.

The Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee‘s subcommittees met Monday.

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

Submit your maps

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

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...