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Friday, Sep 19, 2014

Editorial: Grin and bear redistricting embarrassment


By ordering the elections to proceed as scheduled this year, Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis has made the best of the bad redistricting choices he faced.

The fault lies with a Legislature more concerned with partisanship than equitable representation.

Unfortunately, there is no option other than to hold elections this year with the congressional maps Lewis declared unconstitutional last month.

Though the League of Women Voters and other groups protesting the maps argued to delay the elections until new maps could be used, Lewis saw no way clear to doing that without disrupting an elections process well under way.

The primary is today, and the Nov. 4 general election is 70 days away.

As the state’s elections supervisors told Lewis, there’s simply not enough time to complete the behind-the-scenes work needed to delay the scheduled elections in favor of special elections. The earliest special elections could be held is March and May next year.

Besides, the League of Women Voters is unwilling to accept the redrawn maps the Legislature submitted but that Lewis validated last week, setting up a certain and time-consuming appeal.

As a result Lewis has ordered the 2014 elections be held with the flawed maps and the newly redrawn maps be instituted in time for the 2016 elections.

The League of Women Voters has wisely accepted the conclusion that it’s too late to hold special elections, and will now focus its legal fight on the shape of the maps to be used in the 2016 elections.

The districts Lewis declared unconstitutional are District 5, occupied by Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, and District 10, occupied by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster.

Brown represents the ridiculously shaped district that reaches from Jacksonville down to Orlando and is packed with minorities; Webster represents a district in Central Florida with an appendage Lewis said was drawn to favor Republicans.

Under laws passed by Florida voters in 2010, congressional maps can’t be drawn to favor a political party or incumbent lawmaker and must be compact in shape when possible.

Lewis decided the Republican lawmakers who redrew those districts violated the law and sent the lawmakers back to the drawing board. They returned this month with newly drawn districts 5 and 10, and with redrawn lines for five bordering districts affected by those changes.

The redrawn boundaries shifted about 400,000 voters in and around the affected districts.

Though accepted by Lewis as meeting the requirements of the 2010 law, the changes are not consequential enough for the League of Women voters and the other groups opposing the original maps.

They say Republican lawmakers continue to rig the process to favor their party.

With only seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts affected, the changes Lewis accepted are not expected to dramatically shift the makeup of the state’s congressional delegation, which is 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

The Republicans can be faulted here, but the Democrats likely would have been equally sly had they been drawing the maps. Partisanship taints entirely too much of what goes in Tallahassee.

Leave it to Florida to find itself with the embarrassing circumstance of having a judge order an election be held in two congressional districts declared unconstitutional by that same judge. But Lewis was right to avoid the chaos of special elections and hold the elections as scheduled this year.

The ordeal could have been avoided if lawmakers had been more concerned with the people’s will than party politics.

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