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Florida Senate electoral maps get pushback before heading to the floor

Florida Senate

The Florida Senate’s state and congressional district maps are moving to a floor vote, but voting rights advocates argue lawmakers failed to fully account for the state's population growth — particularly when it comes to Hispanic voters.

The Senate’s congressional plan includes four African-American districts and four Hispanic districts — meeting the state Supreme Court’s requirement from 2015.

But the state has experienced significant population growth over the last decade — so much that the state added a 28th congressional district. Lawmakers, however, only analyzed the demographics in districts that the court identified as majority-minority districts.

“They're seemingly saying, ‘We did a functional analysis, we checked on this protected district, that was determined by the Florida Supreme Court,’" said Florida League of Women Voters' President Cecile Scoon. "And they don't seem to be looking at all to see if there's any other opportunities for minorities to elect representatives of their choice. And with all the change in population, it doesn't make sense that they would rely only on protecting the districts that were established in 2015 based on 2010 census.”

As part of the state constitution’s Fair Districts Amendments, the state’s electoral maps must meet a two-tier requirement. Tier 1 prohibits intentional partisan gerrymandering and requires districts to ensure racial and language minority voters have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice and participate in the political process. Tier 2 standards require that the maps are compact and follow existing political and geographic boundaries, which include highways, rivers and city and county lines.

“They drew the maps, by telling their staff, 'We want you to build the maps based on tier two.' Tier two is not mandatory, it's the stuff that gives way to tier one," Scoon said. "If everything you do has to be checked to make sure it's not violating tier one and you're only checking the benchmarks, how are you being sure that tier one is not violated in many more districts?”

Public input in the remapping process has been limited. Citing concerns about COVID-19, lawmakers refused to hold town hall meetings across the state to gather public input on the maps. Instead, opportunities for residents to weigh in were limited to speaking at committee meeting hearings and submitting suggestions and draft maps online.

Hispanic voters have been even more isolated from the process due to the absence of the translators at committee meetings and a bilingual redistricting website, said Steven Mangual with the Latino Justice Coalition.

“The process has been inaccessible for public comment by limited English proficient Floridians and the many members of the public impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic," Mangual said. The end result has been the dilution of Latino political power.”

Since the 2010 census, the state’s Latino population has grown by more than a third with 1.4 million Latino residents calling the state home. Mangual explained there should be more language-majority-minority districts to account for this growth.

“Latino Floridians must have an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice and remain politically unified in communities of interest.The Florida's legislature has proposed maps ignore dramatic Latino population growth after the last decade.”

Republican redistricting leaders say the process they’ve employed has generated maps that meet all state and federal requirements. Still, they say they expect legal challenges to the maps when they’re approved.

After the Senate approves its districts, State Attorney General Ashley Moody has 15 days to review the map before it heads to the state Supreme Court. The court has 30 days to give the map the green light.

As for the congressional map, the Senate and House must come to an agreement on a plan. After the two chambers pass a map, it heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The goal is to finish the maps well-ahead of the candidate qualifying period in mid-June.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.