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Florida voters look to courts to implement new congressional map

The FDLE searched Rebekah Jones’ home after an investigation allegedly linked her address to a message sent on an internal Department of Health account.
Andrey Popov
Two lawsuits filed in federal and state court on Friday urge the courts to adopt a new congressional map for Florida in time for U.S. House candidates to file the necessary paperwork to run for office.

A federal or state court could put in place a new congressional map for Florida as the state legislature and governor remain at odds over where to draw district lines.

Voters and voting rights groups have filed two lawsuits seeking an injunction to prevent the state’s current congressional map from remaining in effect and the implementation of a court-ordered map that's fair and constitutional. The complaints come nearly three months before U.S. House candidates must file the necessary paperwork to qualify for office. Without a new district map, candidates won’t know where they may run and who they must petition to get on the ballot.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has promised to veto a congressional plan the legislature passed more than a week ago. Overriding his veto would require a two-third’s majority vote in both chambers. DeSantis has proposed a map that would eliminate north Florida’s African American opportunity district, while the legislature has passed a plan that would keep a Black access district in the region.

DeSantis’ plan would give the GOP a 19-9 seat advantage over Democrats, based on 2020 election results. The legislature’s plan would lean less in favor of Republicans.

Before the legislature passed its plan, the governor sought the state Supreme Court’s guidance on the constitutionality of maintaining Rep. Al Lawson’s 5th Congressional District — which stretches from Gadsden County to eastern Duval County. The court ultimately declined to weigh in on the matter.

Fair Districts Now, Common Cause of Florida and several voters filed a complaint in federal court on Friday. They argue that the current map is unconstitutional because it doesn’t include the additional seat that the state is entitled to receive as a result of population growth — pushing the state’s congressional districts up from 27 to 28. They also claim that the current map violates the constitution’s “one-person one-vote” requirement because it contains nine districts that are under- or over-populated.

Another lawsuit was filed in state court on behalf of several voters. Democratic lawyer Marc Elias’ firm is representing the plaintiffs in that suit. Their complaint makes the same case laid out in the other lawsuit.

It remains uncertain whether the matter will be settled in state or federal court. Regardless, there are a myriad of routes the judges could take if they agree to implement a congressional map, explained Matthew Isbell, a Democratic Party consultant and redistricting data analyst. “There’s really no shortage of ways this could go,” he said. “There is this notion that maybe the court won’t pick sides between the governor and the legislature, and they’ll go in an entirely different direction.”

The court could put in place the legislature’s map or the governor’s plan. It could also appoint a special master to draw the districts or ask plaintiffs and defendants to submit plans and select from those, Isbell said. “We could end up seeing a final product that’s very unique, but also has similarities to different drafts or even past plans in different regions of the state.”

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.