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December 21, 2014

4 End-Game Scenarios for the Florida Map Chaos

4 End Game Scenarios for the Florida Map Chaos

Corrine Brown is not happy with Democrats who would like a new Florida map. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s back to the drawing board for Florida lawmakers, who must return to Tallahassee this week for a rushed redraw of the state’s congressional map.

On Friday, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis issued an order setting an Aug. 15 deadline for the legislature to redraw the map and for state officials to develop a revised election schedule. A trial on the proposed map and schedule will take place on Aug. 20, with a ruling expected the following day.

The special legislative session, scheduled to start Thursday, comes nearly a month after a state judge ruled two congressional districts violated the state constitution, which prohibits drawing districts to favor a political party or incumbent.

The Florida primary is scheduled for Aug. 26, so it’s still unclear whether the new congressional map would take effect for the 2014 election cycle.

“Everybody’s in a holding pattern,” a Florida Democratic operative told CQ Roll Call Monday. “Nobody knows what happens next because this has never happened.”

There’s only one thing on which everyone agrees: There are more lawsuits and appeals in the maps’ future. In the meantime, here are four ways the map chaos could end:

1. The Court Rejects the Legislature’s New Map

After the legislature draws a new map, the court will evaluate whether it addresses Lewis’ concerns about the two districts and abides by the state constitution’s fair districts provisions.

If the legislature’s map does not comply with the state constitution, lawmakers could be asked to redraw the map yet again. The court could also redraw the map itself.

Either way, if the map satisfies the judge and plaintiffs, they would proceed to the question of when the map would take affect.

2. A New Map Takes Effect in 2014

Lewis could rule that the new map should take effect for the current election cycle. This means primary and general elections for affected districts will be postponed and candidates re-file to run under the new lines. Florida officials would also have to file a waiver for the MOVE Act, which requires states send ballots to military and overseas voters 45 days before a federal election. 

Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho has said a likely scenario would involve a Nov. 4 primary for the new districts and a Dec. 6 general election.

State Republican lawmakers don’t like this scenario, and they would likely appeal any order that requires new lines for 2014. They’ll argue the changes create too much chaos because absentee ballots have already been issued for the current districts.

To make matters even more complicated, Republican lawmakers could appeal the ruling in state and federal court because the general election date is set by federal law.

3. New Map Takes Effect in 2016

Lewis could also rule that the new congressional districts would take effect for the 2016 elections.

“The most likely thing that will happen here is that we’ll hold elections under the current map,” said University of Florida professor Dr. Michael McDonald in a Monday phone interview.

However, the plaintiffs would likely appeal that decision, arguing that voting in the current districts violates the state constitution and disenfranchises Florida voters. The plaintiffs’ appeal would go through the state appellate system and possibly be decided by the Florida State Supreme Court.

4. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., challenges New 5th District

Since her district was declared invalid, Brown has issued multiple statements calling Lewis’ decision “insensitive” and a “violation of the Voting Rights Act” — foreshadowing a legal challenge.

Brown contends her serpentine district’s current form ensures African Americans can elect a candidate of their choice, and changing the district could run afoul of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Congressional Black Caucus is on Brown’s side. On Friday, she released a letter sent by CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York. The letter asserted there are cases where challenging congressional districts are justified, but, Fudge added, “the recent Florida lawsuit aimed at dismantling the 5th Congressional district is not one” of them. 

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