TALLAHASSEE — Democrats could win up to seven seats in the Florida House of Representatives and Republicans could retain a solid majority under a redistricting map approved on Friday along partisan lines by a House subcommittee of State.
But despite their numerical gains, the proposal was criticized by Democrats who questioned many of the decisions made by the staff, including why they did not maximize minority districts when it seemed that the population changes the would allow.
“The State House map before you today is a constitutionally compliant work,” said state Rep. Cord Byrd, a Republican from Neptune Beach who chairs the subcommittee. He said the plan creates 18 constitutionally protected black districts and 12 protected Hispanic districts while doing a better job of keeping communities together than the current map lawmakers passed a decade ago.
The House Subcommittee on Legislative Redistricting voted 13 to 7 to send the map to the Committee of the Whole. No amendments were proposed and there was little debate.
But unlike 2012, when the legislature’s House redistricting map was the only one to escape a court challenge, the House appeared to face the same criticism the Florida Senate faced this year in adopting its maps of the state Senate and Congress on Thursday. .
“Given the growth of black and brown people in the state of Florida, is it possible that there have been more access seats created to have full representation of these populations, or better representation of these populations?” asked Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-West Palm Beach.
The answer, said Leda Kelly, personnel director of the House Redistricting Committee, is that in areas where they have seen specific population growth among minorities, such as in the Orlando area, they have done a so-called functional analysis. to ensure that they maximize minority voting strength. But elsewhere in the state, she said, if there weren’t an existing minority district to protect, “it’s inappropriate to do so.”
Rep. Susan Valdes, a Democrat from Tampa, also focused on the lack of data provided to analyze where to protect minority voters.
“We were provided with 30 districts in which we were provided with datasets. Why was it not provided on the other 90 seats? ” she asked.
Byrd replied, “We only perform functional analysis on the 30 protected seats. We don’t run it on all seats.
The House Process
Several court orders over the past decade have led to revisions to state Senate and Congressional maps, and those rulings now define how far House and Senate lawmakers can go to draw districts that suit them. give a partisan or incumbent advantage.
In an effort to avoid another trial, Republicans have tried to tightly control the redistricting process, erecting barriers to public participation to avoid being accused of allowing supporters to infiltrate the process as they have. ten years ago. They also refrained from reporting the partisan distribution of all districts on the maps.
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According to an analysis of the map proposed by the House, using data from the 2020 general election, the Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York found that the number of guaranteed Republican seats would drop from 78 to 71 if the 2020 elections were held today, including three Republican-leaning swing districts. The number of Democratic seats would increase from 42 to 49, including four Democratic-leaning constituencies.
Voter advocacy groups, such as LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the League of Women Voters of Florida, accused House leaders and staff of failing to conduct the kind of thorough analysis needed to ensure they were drawing all districts necessary to protect minority voting strength, as required by the Fair District Standards of the State Constitution.
“The maps proposed by Florida lawmakers ignore the dramatic growth of the Latino population over the past decade,” said Miranda Galindo, senior attorney at LatinoJustice PRDLF. She also said the state redistricting process was inaccessible to non-English speakers, including because the committee had not provided translation and virtual testimony services during the pandemic.
“The end result was a dilution of Latino political power,” she said.
Despite the numerical gains for them on the House map, Democrats had critics.
Matt Isbell, a Democratic redistricting expert, called the House map a “modest gerrymander.” He pointed to a series of decisions that he says are signs that House leaders and staff made choices intentionally intended to benefit Republicans:
- In Jacksonville, the map groups black voters into two districts while it could attract a third seat accessible to blacks in southwestern Duval County, in increasingly diverse suburbs.
- In Tampa Bay, the map creates House District 62, a large, majority-black district that connects the communities of South Pinellas across Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County. A better alternative, according to Isbell, would be to retain the current House District 70 that stretches from South Pinellas to Sarasota, a community that is rapidly becoming a minority majority, and create a second minority district along I-75 in eastern Hillsborough County. But House staff analyst Jason Poreda defended the proposed HD 62 because it keeps the district in two counties, rather than spanning four counties.
- And in Alachua County, Isbell said, Gainesville and area are split three ways to avoid creating two Democratic seats.
Isbell commends the Chamber for keeping the Haitian community of North Miami-Dade together in two districts, similar to the current map. And in Orlando, the map makes no effort to “short-circuit” Democratic growth. Instead of limiting the number of Democratic districts, it is increasing them, including creating an additional Hispanic district in the area, he said.
Rep. Marie Paule Woodson, a Hollywood Democrat, questioned why the map separated Miami Gardens, the state’s largest black city. Byrd said there was still time to change that.
Woodson also asked Byrd why they didn’t use additional census data, such as the American Communities Survey, “to create a Haitian-Creole Opportunity District” in South Florida. He responded that the courts require them to use only census data, not ACS data, which does not contain block-level language data.
Democrats have more questions
Rep. Kevin Chambliss, a Homestead Democrat, asked if the number of protected minority districts changed or stayed the same when the proposed map was compared to the map drawn in 2012. Byrd said he didn’t know and that the staff should come back to him with an answer.
And Rep. Dan Daley, D-Sunrise, questioned why Byrd and staff failed to provide answers to a detailed series of questions he presented to them in a Jan. 7 letter, asking for details on how and why. they had arrived in the minority districts. they drew.
The parade of questions left Democrats unsatisfied.
“I find it really alarming that we haven’t been able to get answers” to those questions, Rep. Kristen Aston Arrington, D-Kissimmee, said in voting against the map.
Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, criticized the committee for its lack of transparency.
“There wasn’t a single graph to show a percentage of the declining voting age population of Hispanics and/or African Americans, and I think that really tells you what the focus has been on. “, she said. “Where is the proof of their analysis in minority neighborhoods? Where is the racially polarized voting data? »
“Our Florida Constitution doesn’t tell you that you can’t consult other sources of information,” she said. “Our Constitution tells you to do the job.”
Byrd urged committee members to continue working on alternatives.
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