Florida lawmakers are returning to Tallahassee this week to redraw congressional voting districts invalidated by a judge. The move comes just weeks before voters head to the polls to cast ballots later this month.
Update 3:40 p.m: The move has raised questions about whether the state will be able to hold the scheduled August 26th primary but one local election’s supervisor is telling his constituents i’s business as usual.
Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel says even though Florida lawmakers will start redrawing the state’s congressional districts, there will be a primary election on August 26th.
“There are still a lot of things on the ballot. We have a gubernatorial primary," he says. "we have statehouse races, senate races in some places. We have a lot of things on the ballot throughout the entire state of Florida irrespective of what happens with this congressional redistricting or the current contests going on.”
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is asking state elections officials to submit alternative dates to decide congressional races, which could mean special elections later in the year for those seats. The Florida legislature will begin redrawing congressional maps during a nine-day special session starting Thursday at noon. The revised maps have to be submitted to Judge Lewis by August 15, with hearings to start five days later.
Meanwhile, some people are wondering what the tight timeline means for the state’s current election schedule. The Florida legislature wants to congressional elections to continue as planned; Others want the dates pushed back to make room for the revised map. Ertel believes the state could schedule a special election to address the congressional races, while keeping other local and state races on track for the August 26th primary.
“My suggestion is that we have it as a mail-in ballot election, so every voter in the affected area receives a ballot," he says. "With those contests on it if this is going to take place in December or before than January 3rd seating of the 114th Congress.”
Ertel says turnout in a special election tends to be higher with the mail-in ballot option.
Some absentee ballots have already been returned from oversees voters and U.S. military personnel stationed abroad. Many voters have already become acquainted with their new district lines—but all of that is about to get tossed out of the window. Last week, Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ordered the legislature to redraw two congressional districts he had earlier ruled amounted to gerrymandering.
Late Sunday, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford notified his chamber that the legislature will reconvene this Thursday to redraw the districts of Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Republican Congressman Dan Webster of Orlando.
The legislature may also end up having to make changes to adjoining districts. And the move has led to the creation of the twitter hashtag #mapageddon, with many political observers warning of chaos during the upcoming election cycle. Judge Lewis has set an August 15 deadline for redrawn maps to be submitted to him, and a hearing on those maps five days later.
Lewis is also asking state elections officials to submit a timeline for new elections, which could lead to the August 26th primary being delayed.