Plaintiffs Back Off Changes to Tampa-Area Districts
A coalition of voting-rights organizations has withdrawn two state Senate redistricting proposals it had submitted to a Leon County judge, virtually ensuring that at least one district will cross Tampa Bay when the legal fight ends.
The coalition, which includes the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida, announced the move one day before the groups and the Legislature are set to file briefs with Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds objecting to each other's maps. The state Senate has submitted a single map that would cross the bay.
Reynolds is supposed to recommend one of the plans to the Florida Supreme Court as the best way to follow the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" redistricting standards approved by voters in 2010, after the Legislature agreed in a legal settlement that the current map would be found in violation of those rules.
Supporters of crafting a district that crosses the bay say it is the only way to give African-American voters a chance to elect a candidate of their choice to the seat. Opponents say it is an attempt to pack as many black voters as possible into the district and make surrounding seats more favorable to Republicans.
In its filing Tuesday, the groups said the district, which would have been entirely within Hillsborough County, was drawn with those criticisms in mind.
"However, although there is a likelihood that the Hillsborough-only district would retain African Americans' ability to elect candidates of choice, Plaintiffs will rely only on their alternative version of District 19 that crosses Tampa Bay ... in order to narrow the issues for trial and ensure that African Americans retain their ability to elect candidates of choice," the filing says.
Reynolds is set to hold a hearing Dec. 14 to Dec. 18 to decide which map to send to the Supreme Court.
The maps withdrawn Tuesday included a proposed district that didn't cross Tampa Bay and would have a black voting-age population of slightly less than 29.2 percent. The district that does cross the bay --- which appears in the groups' four other maps --- has a black voting-age population of just over 33 percent.
In the nearly four-year battle over the meaning of the Fair Districts amendments, which include protections for minority districts, the courts have ruled that districts can still elect candidates of choice for blacks or Latinos without those groups making up more than 50 percent of the population, because those groups often make up a majority of one party's primary. But how small a portion of a district's vote can come from a protected racial or language minority still causes fierce debates.
Coincidentally, the coalition's remaining maps could be viewed as more favorable to Democrats. While the withdrawn proposals had 17 Senate districts that would have been carried by both President Barack Obama in 2012 and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink in 2010, the remaining four maps each have 18 such seats.
All six of the maps recommended to Reynolds by the plaintiffs could give Democrats their best chance in years to recapture a majority in the state Senate.
The two groups also filed a correction to one of the other maps that would tweak two Panhandle-area districts, bringing that map's version of North Florida into line with the rest of the plaintiffs' maps.