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Florida redistricting plans get their day in court

Cecile Scoon
Florida League of Women Voters
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Cecile Scoon, fourth from left, advocating in Tallahassee last month.

As the Florida Legislature moves its proposed redistricting plans to the state Supreme Court, a number of watchdog groups are doing just that – watching.

One of those organizations is the Florida League of Women Voters, whose president is Cecile Scoon. She’s voicing concerns about how this version of redistricting was created by the Republican-majority legislature, using what she calls the “non-essential elements” of the constitution.

“And they did not check to make sure that the essential elements of the constitution are protected; making sure that the maps are non-partisan and don’t favor one party or the other,” she said. “And also making sure that the minority voice is not squelched.”

In 2012, the league filed suit over the last redistricting. Scoon says back then, there seemed to be direct violations of fair districts.

“And through the process of discovery, we actually learned that the Republican legislators had paid operatives to submit maps that were more favorable for Republicans,” said Scoon. “They actually admitted to it in the court hearing.”

This time around, Scoon says she has assurance from at least one lawmaker, Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Ft. Myers who chairs the Reapportionment Committee that the past would not be repeated.

“He really acknowledged that past misstep, and he said ‘we are not going to go back to that severe violation of the law’” said Scoon. “He seems to have held the line and follow the districts much more closely than back in 2012.”

The House and Senate last week submitted their state redistricting plans to the Florida Supreme Court for review. Still on hold is the plan to redraw the U.S. House districts. The delay is mostly because Gov. Ron Descants is asking the high court for an advisory opinion.

“Essentially asking, ‘do you have to protect minority districts?’ As we think as required by the Voting Rights Act,” Scoon said. “The court has asked for any briefs of interested parties of whether the court itself has jurisdiction to even answer that question.”

Despite assurances to the contrary, Scoon says the league is hoping for the best, but also preparing if another court challenge is warranted.

“Depending on what the Florida Supreme Court rules in this advisory opinion; and of course the court will make prima facie a review of the maps,” she said. “When we get all of that information, we will be in a better position to determine if there is a need to take any further action.”

Given the political rancor these days, the League of Women Voters’ Cecile Scoon says ensuring fair elections is more important than ever, adding that redistricting sets the stage and foundation for the next 10 years. And that’s in the face of bills backed by the governor and lawmakers that she says are restrictive.

“A proposal to raise the aggregate fine annually, from $1,000 to $50,000, for third-party voter registrants if they violate the law,” said Scoon. “The whole idea of ‘election police’ sent around the state looking to find any potential problems.”

Republican concerns over voter fraud is somewhat ironic, says Scoon, because many prosecutors know about such cases, but are backing away from some of them.

“Where so far the known cases have been essentially Republicans trying to vote twice,” she said. “We don’t see them prosecuting those people, but they want to put these broad limitations on drop box usage, and penalties and all these other things that we think are going to target those who want more voters.”

A report by the Associated Press on possible voter fraud in 2020 uncovered three Donald Trump supporters in The Villages retirement community near Orlando, who were arrested on such charges.