Local News

Redistricting may affect local congressional map

— Local election officials are waiting for the House, the Senate, the governor and a Leon County judge before proceeding with the Aug. 26 primary election and the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election.

“When the judge rules, we will comply with his order,” Highlands County Election Supervisor Penny Ogg said Saturday.

On July 10, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that political consultants had interfered with Florida’s congressional districts by designing maps, writing talking points and infiltrating the legislative process.

Legislators claimed they had no knowledge of that interference.

Lewis ruled that congressional districts approved in 2012 did not meet anti-gerrymandering requirements in the Florida Constitution, and ordered the congressional maps to be redrawn, especially Republican-heavy District 10, represented by Republican Congressman Dan Webster, and the loaded African-American District 5, represented by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown; it snakes across eight counties from Jacksonville to Orlando.

On Thursday, the full House and Senate met in special session to file their draft maps. On Friday, the Senate Reapportionment Committee and the House Select Committee on Redistricting met to consider proposed congressional maps.

“Only committee members are there today,” Sen. Denise Grimsley said on Friday. “Rep. (Cary) Pigman and I came back home last night. We will return on Monday.”

Their final plan must be signed by the governor.

In all, Friday’s committee-approved map would alter those two districts and five more. Because all congressional districts must have roughly equal population, any changes to two districts could ripple through the other 25 districts.

On Friday, it appeared that U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s District 17, which includes Highlands County, would pick up voters from District 10.

“The goal is to fix (district) 5, fix 10 and only those that are directly as a result of the fix to 5 and 10,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who chairs the House committee.

Under the plan revealed by Corcoran and Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton — who represents Highlands County — Brown’s district would no longer include the city of Sanford — it would instead pick up more of Putnam and Marion counties.

Republicans and legislative lawyers blasted the proposal, saying it would endanger African-American voters’ opportunities to elect a candidate of their choice in District 5 by lowering the black voting-age population in the district to about 43.7 percent.

Webster’s district would lose an appendage of white voters in Orange County that Lewis found was included to help the incumbent. Webster would pick up parts of Polk and Osceola counties to offset the population loss.

District 9, currently held by Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson, would shed parts of Polk County and Osceola County, particularly the southern end, while picking up the population Webster would give up.

It’s still not clear how the revisions will disrupt the elections scheduled for November. Judge Lewis has not decided whether to delay elections in the districts affected by the new lines.

Elections supervisors have argued that holding a separate special vote in those districts after the general election could confuse voters and cause logistical problems.

“I don’t believe that a 2014 election, without changing current Florida law, changing current federal law, is doable,” Michael Ertel, the elections supervisor in Seminole County, told the joint committee meeting.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story