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A Florida Senate committee will consider two draft electoral maps before they get a floor vote

A multicolored map of the state of Florida.
The Florida Legislature
The state Senate Committee on Reapportionment approved this district map on Thursday.

In the first week of the Florida legislative session, a bipartisan state Senate committee will consider moving two draft election maps forward to a floor vote.

“Our committee has done a significant amount of work over the six committee weeks and now into the first week of session,” said Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, chairman of the Senate Committee on Reapportionment. “And that has put us in the position to move as quickly as we have.”

The committee is expected to vote on a U.S. House district map and a state Senate district map when it meets on Thursday afternoon. If the committee approves both maps, the full chamber will take them up for a vote.

Rodrigues says he’s “confident” that the state Senate map will get approval. “What remains to be seen is what the final congressional map from the House is going to be.”

Unlike the state Senate map, the state’s congressional district map needs approval from both chambers. “If the map the House adopts is different than our map, that will necessitate a conference committee meeting between the House and Senate,” Rodrigues said. “We would have conference committee meetings much like we do during the appropriations process where we have to get the two chambers to agree on a budget.”

Redrawing the state’s electoral districts happens once every decade. After the state Senate adopts a map it will

Over the last few months, lawmakers and legislative staff have worked to draft maps without much public input in the process. Residents were permitted to submit their own maps and suggestions through the legislature’s redistricting website. They could also speak during committee meetings. Committee members were tasked with bringing their ideas and public input to staff members, who drew the maps under consideration this week.

Two bipartisan subcommittees recommended on Monday two nearly identical maps each. Two for congressional districts and two for state Senate districts. Rodrigues chose one of each to put before the committee on Thursday.

Rodrigues says both met state constitutional requirements — no intentional partisan gerrymandering, no remapping that favors an incumbent and no diminishment of racial and language minorities’ ability to elect a candidate of their choice. His decision came down to which maps contained districts that were more compact and more closely followed political and geographical boundaries, Rodrigues said. “The court in the previous redistricting defined political boundaries as county boundaries and municipal boundaries and accepted the definition for geographical boundaries as interstates, state highways and rivers.”

State Senate’s proposed U.S House district map

The U.S. House map under consideration in the state Senate would give Republicans a 16-12 district advantage over Democrats, based on the 2020 elections. Right now, the state’s congressional makeup is 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Due to population growth, the state added a 28th congressional district. Under the Senate plan, the extra district would cover all of Republican-leaning Polk County and southern Lake County. That remapping created a new Blue district in the Tampa area.

The Senate Committee on Reapportionment approved this congressional draft map on Thursday.
The Senate Committee on Reapportionment approved this congressional draft map on Thursday.

Democrats have accepted the Senate’s plan, which would only slightly lessen the political advantage that Republicans have under the current map.

“In past elections this plan has actually been more favorable for Democrats,” said Matthew Isbell, a redistricting data analyst and former consultant for the Democratic Party. “The map’s actually pretty fair and balanced for the state, and seems to ebb and flow based on the how the candidates are performing.”

In the 2018 mid-term elections, Democrats secured 13 congressional seats and Republicans won 14. In the 2016 elections, Republicans took 16 seats and Democrats were elected in 11 districts.

Unlike the Senate plan, the House’s proposed congressional maps would give Republicans a greater advantage. One version would give the GOP 18 favorable districts and another would give the party 17. Democrats have pushed back on the House plan, describing it as unfairly benefiting Republicans.

“Right now, the Senate has a plan that is very fair partisan-wise for Congress,” Isbell said. “Now the House has a plan that’s pretty gerrymandered. So the question becomes: Which of those two sides win[s] out?”

State Senate’s proposed district map 

The proposed state Senate district map would give Republicans a 23-17 district advantage over Democrats. While the plan passed a bipartisan subcommittee earlier this week, there was some resistance over the way the districts were drawn in the Tampa Bay Area.

The map would stretch Senate District 19 across the bay into southern Pinellas County, costing Democrats a favorable district in Hillsborough County. Jay Ferrin, the committee’s legislative staff director, explained drawing it that way was necessary for the state to meet its benchmark for majority-minority districts. Otherwise, African-American voters in southern Pinellas County would become disenfranchised, he said.

“If we look at drawing it differently, we’re looking at a situation where the Black voters wouldn’t be able to control the primary numerically would not make up a majority of the primary turnout,” Ferrin said. "And that would potentially cause diminishment.”

Florida Senate Subcommittee on Reapportionment
The state Senate's districts for the Tampa Bay area will get a vote in the Senate Reapportionment Committee on Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy of Orlando disagreed that the move was necessary to meet the state’s benchmark for majority-minority voters because lawmakers could draw a district solely within Hillsborough County that would achieve the same result.

“Obviously, we did it in District 19,” Bracy said. “But there could’ve been an opportunity to do it in the district next to it if we didn’t cross the bay.”

After the state Senate approves its district map, it will then go to the state Attorney General Ashley Moody. She has 15 days to check the map for any signs of noncompliance with federal and state law. After Moody gives it the green light, it will head to the state Supreme Court, which has 30 days to approve it. The deadline for lawmakers to approve the state’s electoral maps is March 11 — the last day of the regular session.

The state Division of Elections will begin reviewing candidates paperwork to determine whether they qualify to run for a particular office between June 13 - 17.

“It’s good to be in the first week of session and to be as far along in the process as we are. Because we have the review by the attorney general and the review by the Florida Supreme Court. It’s important to finish as quickly as possible to meet the qualifying deadline in the middle of June.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.