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Fair elections advocates blast DeSantis' efforts to draw congressional map

Common Cause Virtual Press Conference
Zoom - Screenshot
Allison Riggs, attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, describes Gov. Ron DeSantis' proposed congressional map as a partisan gerrymander that would diminish minority voting power in north Florida.

Voting rights advocates are sharply criticizing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to directly influence how the state’s congressional districts are drawn.

DeSantis’ proposed congressional map and his request for a state Supreme Court advisory opinion on the constitutionality of breaking up north Florida’s only African-American district came up on Wednesday during a virtual press conference.

“Racial discrimination and partisan gerrymandering are tools that work together,” said Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “By destroying this Black opportunity district in north Florida, Governor DeSantis’ map effectuates an even worse partisan gerrymander.”

The state Senate has passed a congressional plan that would maintain the GOP’s current 16-12 seat advantage — based on the 2020 elections. DeSantis’ map would give Republicans two additional favorable seats — bringing the GOP’s advantage to 18-10. The state House has paused its progress on passing a map until the state Supreme Court decides whether or not to issue guidance.

Last week, DeSantis filed a request for an advisory opinion on whether maintaining the current lines of the state’s 5th Congressional District — which stretches from Gadsden County to Jacksonville — is necessary to meet satisfy standards set in the Fair Districts Amendments. Specifically, DeSantis is seeking clarification on the requirement that the districts may not diminish minority voting power.

“This is very bizarre,” Riggs said. “It is not a normal for any court, especially a Supreme Court, to give an advisory opinion to someone who doesn’t even have the authority to draw maps.”

The court could determine whether or not to provide guidance as early as Friday. If it grants the governor's request, it would issue its advisory opinion after all interested parties have had a chance to make their case before the court.

The GOP-controlled legislature, state Attorney General Ashley Moody and Republican Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry filed briefs supporting DeSantis’ request for an advisory opinion.

Three voting rights groups — Common Cause, Fair Districts Now and All On the Line Florida — filed briefs this week urging the court to reject DeSantis’ request for an advisory opinion. Democratic Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick of the state's 20th Congressional District also filed a brief opposing the governor’s request.

While the legislature is in charge of drawing the state’s congressional map, DeSantis only has the authority to sign it into law or veto it. DeSantis’ plan has gained favor from some of his fellow party members.

For instance, Leon County Republican Party Chair Evan Power says that’s the plan he’d like to see adopted. “If you are trying to boil it down into what is the most compact, fair way to have an election, it is the governor’s map.”

Under the Fair Districts Amendments, the prohibition on intentional partisan gerrymandering and diminishing minority voting power supersedes the requirement of compactness.