Florida’s redistricting reforms continue to show bite.
In early July, a blockbuster ruling by the Florida Supreme Court found that lawmakers had drawn the state’s congressional map for partisan ends in violation of constitutional amendments passed by voters in 2010 to ban partisan gerrymandering. The ruling directed the Florida legislature to redraw eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts for the 2016 elections.
Now those same landmark reforms have resulted in an agreement by lawmakers to also redraw Florida’s state senate map. Florida voters alleged in a suit, which had been scheduled to go to trial in late September, that the 2012 senate map had been drawn in secret by GOP operatives and political consultants to favor their party and protect powerful incumbents, including Senate President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando).
Once the map favoring Republicans was drawn behind closed doors, challengers say operatives used “straw men” to propose the maps at public hearings in an effort to end-run the state’s anti-gerrymandering amendments. Altogether, challengers alleged that 14 of the senate’s 40 seats were unconstitutional.
But rather than take the case to trial, Florida lawmakers agreed to settle, admitting in a remarkable stipulation that “the Enacted Senate Plan and certain individual districts were drawn to favor a political party and incumbents.”
Under the settlement, lawmakers will hold a special session from October 19 - November 6 to redraw the Florida senate map. The map then will go back to the trial court for scrutiny.
Many observers predict a redrawn map will have far-reaching consequences, particularly in the fast-growing Central Florida region where heavy migration from Puerto Rico is already upending the state’s politics. Some even speculate that how map lines are redrawn could impact the race to be the next president of the Florida senate.
In the meanwhile, score one for reformers. Questions about whether redistricting reforms have enough teeth to provide a meaningful check to partisan gerrymandering has long been debated — sometimes contentiously. In Florida at least, the answer seems to be yes.