Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his veto against the Legislature's Florida redistricting maps.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his veto against the Legislature’s Florida redistricting maps. [Florida Channel]

The Legislature will defer to Gov. Ron DeSantis during next week’s Florida redistricting special session, relying on the governor and not on the Legislature’s own redistricting staff to draw maps.

DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s congressional maps, saying they improperly made race a priority when they drew two districts — one in Jacksonville and another in Orlando — that protected Black voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice.

“Our goal during the special session is to pass a new congressional map that will both earn the Governor’s signature and withstand legal scrutiny, if challenged,” Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls said in a joint statement. “At this time, Legislative reapportionment staff is not drafting or producing a map for introduction during the special session. We are awaiting a communication from the Governor’s Office with a map that he will support. Our intention is to provide the Governor’s Office opportunities to present that information before House and Senate redistricting committees.”

Throughout the process, redistricting legislative staff told lawmakers that it would be illegal to eliminate districts that currently allow Black voters to elect their preferred candidates. Now those workers have been removed from the map-drawing process.

DeSantis has submitted two prior maps that would’ve been far more Republican-friendly than the Legislature’s approved maps. The most significant change was DeSantis’ proposed elimination of a Black ability-to-elect seat in Jacksonville, ensuring Northeast Florida had two strongly Republican seats.

While his veto message focused on the 4th and 5th Congressional Districts in Northeast Florida, DeSantis could attempt to redraw the entire map.

If lawmakers accept DeSantis’ premise that race predominating in redistricting is inherently unconstitutional, it’s unclear why they wouldn’t redraw Hispanic districts in Miami-Dade.

The Legislature’s proposed 25th Congressional District, represented by Republican Mario Díaz-Balart, for example, maintains its peculiar L shape to connect densely populated Cuban areas of Miami-Dade across the Everglades to rural parts of Collier and Hendry counties.

The Legislature’s staff have said the shape of that district was to ensure Hispanic voters could elect their preferred candidates, a standard that DeSantis says is illegal to use in redistricting for Black voters in North Florida.

Notably, Black voters in North Florida prefer Democratic candidates, while Cuban voters in Miami-Dade prefer Republican candidates, according to an analysis released by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

Most Republicans in the Legislature had resisted DeSantis’ prior influence, with redistricting committee staff and the chairs of the committees saying it was essential the maps still protect Black voters as required in Florida’s Fair Districts standards, which were approved by voters last decade.

Democrats, however, voted against the Legislature’s maps, ensuring the Legislature would not have a large enough majority that could overcome his veto.

DeSantis’ veto memo echoed Democrats’ arguments. At the time of the vote, House Democratic Ranking Member Joe Geller said the maps were “blatantly unconstitutional” and urged Democrats to vote down the maps. Later after the veto, Geller said DeSantis only vetoed the maps because they were, in fact, constitutional.

The Fair Districts standards codified parts of Section 2 and Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act into the state constitution, which included a requirement that maps don’t diminish minority voting strength.

DeSantis has argued it is inappropriate to make race a predominant factor in redistricting just to comply with that non-diminishment standard.

In response, the Legislature passed two versions of congressional maps. The primary map included a Duval County-only 5th Congressional District, which would have allowed each of the seven most populous counties to have a congressional district wholly embedded within the county. The backup map maintained a Jacksonville-to-Gadsden County district similar to the present one represented by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.

That backup would only take effect if a court struck down the Duval-only version as being insufficient at protecting Black voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates.

But DeSantis scoffed at the proposal and vetoed it, saying it was still inappropriate for taking race into consideration.

His proposal would have one district represent Nassau and Clay counties and parts of Duval County, and he’d have another district represent parts of Duval and St. Johns counties. Both would be Republican districts.

The Florida redistricting special session begins next Tuesday. Meanwhile, two lawsuits are working their way though state and federal court.

If a new map isn’t in place before then, the federal court will hold a trial May 12.

The state case will hold a hearing Tuesday to discuss next steps.

If Florida fails to pass a new map, then the current map would violate the one-person, one-vote principle, with districts varying greatly in population. The state also must draw a new 28th district.

Polk Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards said a new map is needed by April 29 or May 13 at the latest to give elections supervisors enough time to prepare for the elections. Leon Supervisor Mark Earley said his office needed maps by May 27, but that other elections offices may need them earlier.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee said a map isn’t needed until June 13. June 17 is the deadline for candidates to qualify for congressional elections. The primary election is Aug. 23.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rulings, it appears unlikely that a court would block a map approved by the Legislature and DeSantis for at least this election.

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...