May 8, 2012

ICYMI: U.S. DOJ Approves Redrawn Florida Redistricting Maps

Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau: . . . In a one-page letter to state officials, the U.S. Department of Justice said the state House, Senate and congressional maps do not appear to violate the federal Voting Rights Act. In a separate ruling, a trial court judge rejected the Democrats' argument that the congressional map should be put on hold while it is being litigated in Leon County Circuit Court.

The two decisions dealt a one-two punch to Democratic Party efforts to halt the redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature. But they also mean that candidates for 27 congressional seats, 40 state Senate districts and 120 state House seats can now rely on the new boundaries to file their election papers during qualification week June 4-8.

The new maps were drawn according to a new set of anti-gerrymandering guidelines approved by voters in 2010. . . .

The Florida Democratic Party and a coalition of voter groups are challenging the constitutionality of the congressional map in Leon County, claiming that it not only violates the new ban against protecting incumbents and political parties but unfairly packs black and Hispanic voters into districts to give Republicans an electoral advantage.

The groups asked the court to stop the maps from taking effect this election cycle until a trial is held, but 2nd Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Monday rejected their claims. . . . Lewis rejected the plaintiffs arguments that several districts, from South Florida to Tampa Bay, violate the constitution. He said, however, there is sufficient data surrounding the sprawling North Florida-based district now held by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville to question "whether it is possible to design a more compact district in northeast Florida that would not diminish the ability of black voters to elect a candidate of their choice." . . .

Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux said Democrats are considering additional lawsuits. . . .

Florida is required to have its redistricting maps receive approval from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division because five counties have a history of racial discrimination in elections. The federal government clears the maps, and all other voting law changes, to determine if voting rights are preserved for minorities in Hills­borough, Monroe, Collier, Hendry and Hardee counties. [Read Full Story -- Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas]

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