Florida redistricting overview:
• The Florida redistricting special session begins today.
• Gov. Ron DeSantis looks likely to get his way with a map that would create 20 Trump-won seats versus eight Biden seats.
• If the Legislature passes DeSantis' preferred map, it's unlikely courts intervene this year.
The Legislature begins its special Florida redistricting session today with a mandate from the House and Senate GOP leadership to pass Gov. Ron DeSantis’ preferred congressional map, which would maximize Republican advantages.
DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s earlier map, claiming it relied too heavily on race in drawing a Duval-only 5th Congressional District. The redistricting committee chairmen and their staff had said the district would continue to allow Black voters to elect their preferred candidates while being more compact and honoring county lines.
But DeSantis threw it out in favor of a whiter, more Republican district where 40% of the district comes from Nassau and Clay counties. DeSantis’ veto memo argued that Florida’s Fair Districts standards, which incorporated Section 2 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, would violate the 14th Amendment.
While the Legislature’s special session is scheduled through Friday, many lawmakers expect the House and Senate to quickly approve DeSantis’ proposed map before the end of Wednesday.
If the Legislature does pass the map and it gets signed by DeSantis, that will end federal litigation over an earlier impasse, but it will also likely spark new lawsuits alleging DeSantis’ map is dilutes Black voters.
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.
DeSantis only mentioned the 5th District in his veto memo, but his proposed map redrew most of the state’s 28 districts.
DeSantis has said he wants the Legislature to pass a map that uses race-neutral redistricting criteria. But DeSantis’ own map still uses race when it benefits Republicans, in one case stretching a South Florida Hispanic district from Hialeah across the unpopulated Big Cypress National Preserve to Naples’ suburbs, making the 26th Congressional District even more Republican.
The Tributary’s new Florida redistricting interactive shows how the district goes across vast unpopulated land in order to draw the Republican Hispanic seat.
Redistricting staff previously said the district’s odd shape was because map drawers were trying to draw a district for Hispanic voters. DeSantis hasn’t explained why he believes it’s OK to draw some race-conscious districts but not others.
Courts have previously ruled that if map drawers made voters’ race or ethnicity a primary factor in redistricting, then they must be able to show that the specific minority group votes cohesively for specific preferred candidates.
The Legislature refused to release racial analyses performed by its own experts, and staff never said which candidates Latino voters supported. A UCLA study found that Latinos in Miami-Dade did not overall vote as a cohesive political bloc.
While DeSantis claimed he needed to redraw the map because the state’s districts weren’t compact enough, his proposal is not more compact than the one he vetoed.
The Legislature uses three mathematical scores to measure compactness: Polsby-Popper, Reock and Convex-Hull. DeSantis’ map slightly improves the Polsby-Popper score from .42 to .43, out of 1, but his map decreases the Reock and Convex-Hull scores from .48 and .82 to .47 and .81.
The Legislature’s map had seven districts each inside one county, while DeSantis’ has five.
In Northeast Florida, the Legislature initially drew Duval-only 5th Congressional District and a 4th Congressional District that covered Clay, Nassau and most of St. Johns counties.
DeSantis has replaced and renumbered the districts. Now the 4th Congressional District covers Nassau and Clay counties, along with a sliver of Arlington and all of the Westside and Northside of Jacksonville. The 5th Congressional District includes part of St. Johns County and most of Duval County, with all of the Beaches, the Southside and some of Arlington.
DeSantis’ plan isn’t the most compact way to draw Northeast Florida’s districts, but it might be the best way to ensure two Republican seats.
An alternative, which would have included Duval and Nassau counties in one district and Clay, St. Johns and Duval in the other, would improve the two districts’ compactness scores. It would also create one district that’s split 50-50 between Democratic and Republican voters in an average of elections from the last four years, and the other district would remain solidly Republican.
The Fair Districts standards also prohibit drawing districts to “favor or disfavor a political party.”
DeSantis first submitted maps in January, after Steve Bannon urged conservatives to pressure DeSantis to focus on redistricting. Bannon, who was Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, posted DeSantis’ phone number at the time.
Most Republicans in the Legislature opposed DeSantis’ initial efforts to dismantle the 5th Congressional District. But the mood shifted after DeSantis vetoed the maps and then endorsed a lawmaker who had remained loyal to him during redistricting. Meanwhile, he has pointedly declined to endorse Senate President Wilton Simpson’s run for agriculture commissioner.
Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced an about-face from their previous redistricting procedures. Until now, redistricting ran primarily through designated committee staff, and anyone who submitted maps was required to disclose information about their work.
Then Simpson and Sprowls said they would defer to DeSantis, whose staff submitted a map that made broad changes throughout Florida.
Perhaps the most stunning shift came from Sen. Ray Rodrigues, the Republican who had led that chamber’s redistricting committee. Rodrigues earned bipartisan plaudits for his efforts on both the Senate district and Congressional district maps.
Despite repeatedly saying that Jacksonville’s 5th Congressional District and Orlando’s 10th Congressional District needed to protect Black voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates, he changed his tone after DeSantis’ veto.
In a memo last week, Rodrigues called his own previous version of the 5th Congressional District “racially gerrymandered”, and he said DeSantis’ proposal was a “significant improvement” to the current maps.
In 2020, Donald Trump would’ve won 20 out of 28 districts in the new map in 2020 and 17 districts in 2016. DeSantis would’ve won 18 districts in his 2018 bid for the governorship.
The map also turns Orlando’s 10th District where Black voters made up about half of the primary voters into a whiter, more Democratic seat.
The Legislature’s new map was submitted by DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, Alex Kelly, who worked on redistricting for former Speaker Will Weatherford last decade. Kelly was one of the staffers responsible for drawing a previous version of the 5th Congressional District that was thrown out by courts for arbitrarily increasing the Black voting population higher than it needed to be and for drawing a partisan gerrymander.
Kelly’s wife, Leda Kelly, served as the Florida House’s redistricting staff director this cycle.
Only Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson proposed an alternative to DeSantis’ map.
Democrats have been reluctant to make redistricting suggestions this cycle, and Sen. Annette Taddeo, a candidate for governor, has said she will not participate in the special session.
If DeSantis gets his way with Northeast Florida’s congressional districts, it could spark a competitive Republican primary for the extra GOP seat.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s political adviser told The Florida Times-Union that Curry is considering running for the seat. If Curry ran for the seat, then the city would hold a special election in August with a November runoff to replace Curry.