As early voting got underway for the August 26 primary, the Florida Legislature passed new congressional districts on nearly party-line votes in the House and the Senate on Monday. The map now goes back to the courts.
It was a scene not unlike when lawmakers passed a congressional map two years go – Republicans taking a victory lap at the statehouse – for following the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments voters approved in 2010.
The House voted 71-38 to approve the map – SB 2A – and the Senate followed suit 25-12. The special session was called after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis struck down two congressional districts – 5 and 10 -- that he said were drawn to boost the GOP’s chances at the ballot box.
Speaker Weatherford says approval of the new map on Monday ensures that the Legislature will make Friday’s deadline to have it on Judge Lewis’ desk with time to spare.
Democrats – including House Minority Leader Perry Thurston -- argued that the process this time was no better than it was two years ago — a process Lewis said was corrupted by the influence of political consultants despite the efforts of some legislative leaders to follow the amendments.
Earlier, the Senate voted by the same 25-12 margin to reject a proposal by Sen. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, which would have made substantial changes. Thurston says the special session – and its $300,000 price tag – could have been avoided had the amendments been followed.
Judge Terry Lewis is expected to hold a hearing next week on whether to approve the changes and, if so, whether to hold a special election in districts that would be affected by the plan. Republicans – including Senate President Don Gaetz -- maintain that it’s too late to change the date of the primary and general elections for Congress, citing absentee ballots already sent out, including to military personnel overseas.
Gaetz left open the possibility that the Legislature could appeal if Lewis delays the regularly scheduled elections – and August 26 primary and November 4 general election. And he also predicts that the map’s critics would continue fighting.
One of the plaintiffs is the non-partisan League of Women Voters. President Deirdre MacNab said in a statement that they do not believe the map complies with the court order or the Fair Districts Amendment.
The League plans to urge Judge Lewis to adopt a “constitutionally compliant map” for the 2014 elections.