TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – The Legislature on Wednesday released six draft maps of Senate districts for a special session that begins next week, opening up the next phase of a long-running battle over Florida’s congressional and legislative lines.
The “base maps” drawn by legislative aides were released days before lawmakers return to Tallahassee for a three-week session to approve new districts for the 40 Senate seats. The Legislature agreed to craft new lines as part of a deal to settle a lawsuit challenging the existing districts under the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” standards approved by voters in 2010.
In a memo released along with the new maps, House and Senate aides took pains to say that they were isolated from people who might have tried to interfere in the process for political reasons.
“Since the drafting process began, no information concerning the details of any base map or its earlier iterations were provided to anyone other than the map drawing staff and counsel, and no legislator, political consultant, or member of the public has attempted to influence us in the drawing of the base maps,” three staff members wrote in the memo.
The trio also said they did not look at information on the partisan makeup of the districts, except in a handful of cases where it was necessary to make sure that minority voters in a particular district would have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
Recordings of meetings in which the maps were discussed and other materials related to the process will be released to the public later, the memo said.
The aides took two different approaches to drawing the lines: one that emphasized keeping counties whole and trying as much as possible to keep districts contained within one county; and another that aimed to prevent the number of times each county was split. Staff members drew three maps following each of those approaches.
On the surface, the new proposals do not seem likely to dramatically alter the balance of power in the Senate, which Republicans now control with a 26-14 majority. Currently, there are 22 districts that were carried by both Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 and GOP Gov. Rick Scott in 2010; 15 that went for both Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012 and Alex Sink, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, in 2010; and three more that swung between the two parties.
On the new maps, the number of districts that were carried by both GOP candidates range from 19 to 22, and both Democrats carried 16 districts in all but one of the maps. In the outlier, 15 districts voted for both Obama and Sink.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters he was confident that the new maps would stand up to scrutiny. Since the beginning of the 2012 redistricting process, courts have rejected Senate or congressional maps drawn by lawmakers four times.
“It’s a whole new world, and I think we’re learning quite a bit from that,” Gardiner said. “As we get more direction from the court, it allows us to adjust.”
Meanwhile, a Democratic congresswoman issued an open letter to the Florida Supreme Court and asked justices to reject a map that Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis recommended to resolve another dispute over congressional lines.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson blasted changes in the map, which was proposed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida. Wilson said the proposal would take key industries out of her South Florida district.
“It isolates poor people behind district lines and is a violation of the spirit of the Voting Rights Act as it intentionally separates races for voting purposes to give one party a political advantage,” Wilson wrote.
Earlier Wednesday, justices announced that they plan to hear oral arguments Nov. 2 about Lewis’ congressional recommendation.
The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.