THE FLORIDA HOUSE APPROVED SENATE AND HOUSE DISTRICT MAPS BY 77 TO 39


By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary


The Florida House approved Wednesday legislative redistricting plans for Senate and House state districts on a vote of 77 to 39. The Senate then unanimously approved the plans Thursday.

Meanwhile, the House took a pause on its congressional redistricting work Tuesday after Gov. Ron DeSantis requested the state Supreme Court weigh in on a Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee district.

While Democrats offered many objections to the House district plan, they offered no amendments or alternatives. Only one Democrat, Rep. Anika Omphroy of Broward County, voted for the proposal, and no Republican voted against it.

House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne said the map was an “easily provable” violation of federal and state laws because the state didn’t add additional Black or Latino districts. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled in a Florida case that “failure to maximize” minority districts doesn’t prove a violation of federal law.

Earlier, on Tuesday, House Republicans revealed that a hired law firm conducted racial voting analyses, even though the House didn’t make those analyses public and wouldn’t share the results of the reports when asked.

The Tributary filed a public records request Tuesday for the reports and asked Speaker Chris Sprowls about them but has not received an answer by the end of Wednesday.

The past two weeks of state redistricting news have been hectic. To recap:

The Florida Senate approved its own congressional and senate district maps on bipartisan votes.

Gov. DeSantis, who could veto the congressional maps but has no say over the state legislative districts, offered his own proposal in a break with gubernatorial norms. His staff criticized as “unconstitutional” a Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee congressional district that protects the ability of Black voters to elect a candidate of their choice.

He requested the state Supreme Court weigh in. The court has requested briefings, with recusals from two of the seven justices — Justice Alan Lawson and Chief Justice Charles Canady, whose wife is a candidate for the Legislature.

In response, the Florida House canceled two congressional redistricting subcommittee meetings and focused instead on its own state legislative map, approving a version that would likely have little impact on the partisan outcomes in the heavily Republican House.

House Democrats objected loudly in committee hearings and on the floor Tuesday and Wednesday, saying the proposal was passed too quickly and without enough transparency or public comment.

Democrats also criticized the lack of compactness in certain long and skinny districts in Miami-Dade and the fact that two of Jacksonville’s districts cross the St. Johns River.

They also derided the lack of data about the Haitian Creole-speaking population. A decade ago, the Florida House used American Community Survey data to provide an estimate of the Haitian population, but this time, House Redistricting Chairman Tom Leek said he didn’t do so because it was unreliable.

Still, when overlaying the ACS data over the map, two districts appear to pick up about as many Haitian-speaking people as is possible.

House Districts 107 and 108 overlaid on top of the American Community Survey’s estimates of the Haitian Creole- and French-speaking populations. [The Tributary]

Leek said that if any lawmaker believed districts weren’t legal, they should have filed an amendment to correct the problem.

Democrats said they didn’t believe if they offered amendments they would’ve been accepted and they didn’t think they had the necessary data to draw constitutional districts.

During Tuesday’s debate, Leek said a law firm hired by the chamber had performed in-depth racial voting analyses, which had never been published.

Those analyses apparently included what percentages were necessary for minority voters to elect the candidates of their choice in certain protected districts. (Leek mentioned specific percentages, though he didn’t share what districts they applied to.)

The Florida House has previously referred to what it calls “functional analyses” to assess whether minority voters can elect the candidates of their choice in 30 specific districts. That analysis looks at voter registration, voter turnout, election results and Census data.

But that type of analysis only assesses a specific district’s overall results after it has been drawn, and it doesn’t explain how the Florida Legislature determined minority voters needed protections in those districts in the first place.

As The Tributary has previously reported, courts have ruled that to warrant special protections for minority voters several factors must be met:

  • A minority racial group must be large enough and compact enough to make up a majority in a district.
  • The group must vote cohesively for the same candidates.
  • White voters must vote cohesively for a different candidate so that when white voters are a majority of a district, they would usually deny the minority group’s preferred candidate from winning.

Without meeting those criteria, making voters’ racial demographics a primary factor in drawing districts may violate the U.S. Constitution.

To determine if those criteria are met, courts have relied on detailed precinct-level analyses looking at racially polarized voting. The Florida Legislature’s public mapping software aggregates racial and election results in districts after they’ve been drawn, but doesn’t offer it at a precinct level.

This is wonky, but to give an example of how you’d prove voting cohesion through precinct-level turnout and results:

You could show cohesion if you saw that the more Hispanic a precinct’s turnout share is the better a particular candidate performed. If precincts that are more than 90 percent Hispanic are voting uniformly for one candidate and precincts that are more than 90 percent non-Hispanic and white are voting for a different candidate, that’s good evidence of voting cohesion.

But if Hispanic voters are splitting their vote between candidates, or if white voters are voting for the same candidates, then Hispanic voters likely would not have the same legal protections.

Leek never said if Hispanic voters do vote cohesively, only saying that the drawn Hispanic districts were “constitutionally compliant”.

At one point, Leek said he didn’t know which districts had that kind of analysis done on them, and at another point, he said they were only done for 30 specific districts.

Leek also said that he didn’t know what exactly was in the reports, telling a Democratic lawmaker that “if you had that information, including myself in this group, it doesn’t report itself in a way that a normal person could use it. You’d have to have an expert as well. That’s the best I can do for that.” He said the legal counsel would have the answers for that.

Yet when Gray Robinson’s Andy Bardos spoke to the redistricting committee and the congressional redistricting subcommittee once each in early November, members were told not to ask Bardos about policy questions or data.

At the time, Rep. Ralph Massulo, a Citrus County Republican, asked Bardos a question about Census racial data. Congressional redistricting subcommittee chairman Tyler Sirois interjected, “I don’t think our speaker will be able to provide an answer or any insight on that.” Sirois similarly interjected when Rep. Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican, asked about Asian voters having protected districts.

During Wednesday’s final debate, Republicans repeatedly said that Democrats who had concerns could have raised those to Leek or redistricting staff earlier.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat, said she couldn’t vote for the proposal because “we still don’t know if there could’ve been more minority districts. Without more in-depth analysis, how do we know if we did the best we could?”


EXCERPT FROM DEBATE

A lengthy exchange on the floor Tuesday between Leek and Miami-Dade Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph, who asked the bulk of Democrats’ questions about the racial analyses, revealed how Leek evaded giving direct answers.

Rep. Joseph asked, “Did the House’s analysis involve ecological regression or inference analysis to determine the level of minority cohesion, white voting bloc and racially polarized voting?”

Leek replied, “For those of you who are still awake in the chamber, we’re going to go down a very deep rabbit hole. The analysis you’re talking about here is an analysis that needs to be performed by experts. But the level of analysis or expertise is beyond staff so we used our counsel to help us with that.

Joseph: “In saying you used counsel to help with that, I asked about three categories, minority cohesion, white voting bloc, racially polarized voting. Which were taken into account by counsel in drawing these maps?

Leek: “What I can tell you is we are conducting all the appropriate constitutional analyses and that information then comes to us. We then have to make the decisions necessary in the maps you have in front of you.”

Joseph: “I asked the question but I didn’t get an answer for the question. I don’t know how to proceed. I have other questions to ask. I heard we’re getting appropriate analyses, and before that, the answer was counsel is advising us. If you don’t know, that’s fine.”

Leek: “The problem is the question. That type of analysis isn’t done on every district, so if you want to ask for a specific district, we can answer that question. The other problem with that question is it’s removed from us, right? It is a couple of steps from us done by the experts who are beyond anybody I know in this room able to perform that analysis. I’m doing the best I can with the information.”

Joseph: “That kind of information is useful for us to know. The first part of your response is it was performed for some districts but not others. Can you tell us what districts those three types of analyses were done for?”

Leek: “Not as I stand here today, no.”

Joseph: “That analysis was done, but not for all 120 districts.”

Leek: “That analysis or some combination or variation of that analysis was performed for some but not every district.”

Joseph: “Is there some kind of record of which analysis was performed on which district because you said that analysis or some combination thereof or some variation thereof was performed? I’m just asking about three specific kinds of analyses.”

Leek: “The problem with answering that question is they don’t exist independent of each another. Sometimes they’re used in combination. Sometimes they’re used in different combinations. I don’t know which were used on certain districts. I can say with certainty it’s not performed in all 120 districts. The other problem with that is the analysis is done not by me but by outsiders, so I can’t tell you what records they have or any of those things, but I’d expect they’d have all the records that lawyers need.

Joseph: “Can you share with the body who conducted that analysis and how we can access that information?

Leek: “Our counsel does that. Our counsel would have that information. I think quite frankly if you had that information, including myself in this group, it doesn’t report itself in a way that a normal person could use it. You’d have to have an expert as well. That’s the best I can do for that.”

Joseph: “What was the result of those regression inference analyses? Even if you don’t have them, was that discussed with you?”

Sprowls: “Rep. Joseph do you have a question about a specific district? That might make it easier to answer.”

Joseph: “Let’s say the 120th district.”

Leek: “No, and the analysis would not be performed on anything other than protected districts.”

Joseph: “None of these analyses were performed outside of the 30 districts the House has identified?”

Sprowls: “That question has been answered.”

Joseph: “For the protected districts, restricting it to the 30 that this analysis was performed for, did it show high, medium or low cohesion among Latino voters or Hispanic voters?”

Sprowls: “Is that for a specific district, Rep. Joseph?”

Joseph: “Any of the 30.”

Leek: “Cohesion is one of the factors in determining what is a protected district. And cohesion changes district by district, ethnicity by ethnicity, so it is difficult to ask the question as if it is being asked for the whole map. In some instances, you may have an African American-protected district, Black districts, they may be cohesive and able to elect the candidate of their choice with 29 percent Black voting-age population. Hispanics on the other hand, you won’t see that type of performance occur until you get to 65 percent or 70 percent Hispanic voting-age population.”

Joseph: “In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court said, ‘the evidence before this court suggests lack of Hispanic voting cohesion in the Miami-Dade area.’ Has the House’s analysis confirmed that or contradicted it based on the specific ones that are in Miami-Dade County based on the 30 protected ones that are in Miami-Dade?”

Leek: “I appreciate the question. It’s difficult to give you a precise answer to that question. All the districts in front of you, including the Hispanic protected districts, are drawn to be constitutionally compliant.”

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 Rules Committee will host its second public hearings Thursday about its local redistricting plan at 6 p.m at Atlantic Coast High School.

The committee will host two more hearings the following Thursdays at 6 p.m., on Feb. 10 at First Coast High and on Feb. 17 at Raines High.


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Andrew Pantazi is the founding editor of 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 and his wife,...