TALLAHASSEE (AP) — Florida’s top election official is recommending that the state hold special elections for Congress next year, even though that may violate federal law.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Friday filed a proposed special election schedule that calls for holding a primary election next March and a general election in May for newly revised congressional districts.
Detzner was complying with an order from Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. Lewis is mulling whether to order a special election for Florida’s revised congressional map. The Legislature adopted a new map earlier this week after Lewis had ruled the current districts were illegally drawn to benefit Republicans.
Detzner’s court filing states that after consulting with county election officials the state concluded it “not possible” to conduct the elections this year and instead officials recommended 2015 elections. But attorneys for the state add that “such a schedule in all likelihood” violates a federal law that requires two-year terms for members of Congress.
Legislative leaders have said that they are adamantly opposed to holding a special election with the new map which changes the boundaries of seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts.
Thomas Zehnder, one of the attorneys representing the groups that sued over the congressional districts, said his clients “do not agree” with the positions taken by state election officials but didn’t offer any details. The coalition that sued the Legislature plans to file a response with the court on Monday.
In their past filings the League of Women Voters of Florida and the other groups that sued over the maps have suggested using the November election as a primary and holding a general election for the congressional seats in December.
Lewis will hold a hearing next week on both the new map and the proposed schedule.
Voters in 2010 passed the “Fair Districts” amendment that says legislators cannot draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party, a practice known as “gerrymandering.” The League and other groups contended that the GOP consultants used a “shadow” process in 2012 to draw districts that benefited Republicans and violated the new standards.
Lewis agreed there was enough evidence to show that consultants helped manipulate the process and ruled that two districts were invalid. The two districts flagged by Lewis are a sprawling district that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando and is held by U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, a Democrat, and a central Florida district held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.
The new map alters those two districts somewhat, but also changes the boundaries for five other districts. Two GOP held districts, for example, would become slightly more Democratic, but the swing is not that significant. Republicans currently hold a 17-10 edge in the state’s congressional delegation and the new map may not change that.
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