Julie Delegal: Could Florida have 2 minority-access districts for the price of one?

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has filed a federal lawsuit opposing the reshaping of the district she represents, Florida’s CD 5. Her legal action has drawn the attention of voters’ groups including the League of Women Voters, the group that led the charge for voters to pass the state’s Fair Districts Amendments.

Congresswoman Brown contends that redrawing her district in an east-west configuration – as the Florida Supreme Court has ordered state lawmakers to do – would deprive African-American voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.

But would it?

The LWV and Common Cause say no. Those voters’ groups sought to intervene in Brown’s federal suit last week. In fact, language from the groups’ court documents denote that Florida could have two minority access districts for the price of one:

The north-south version of District 5 is a vestige of Florida’s partisan past that is grossly non-compact, divides every county that it touches, destroys the … compliance of surrounding districts, and marginalizes minority voters by concentrating them in a single district, rather than the two minority opportunity districts that the east-west version of District 5 allows to be created. (Emphasis added.)

Translation: We can have Fair Districts and still provide for minority candidates to elect the candidate of their choice; in fact, if we follow the Fair Districts provisions, we could add another minority-access district.

No one can argue against Brown’s contention that “Corrine Delivers” for District 5 in Florida. A powerful democratic incumbent, her achievements in Congress are further magnified because she’s in the political minority in Washington. Her district is a minority-access district, that is, a district drawn to ensure that African-Americans in Florida are able to elect the candidate of their choice. No one wants to return to the sad chapter in our history, before the Voting Rights Act took effect, when African-American Floridians were denied fair representation in Congress.

But Florida’s newer laws, the Fair Districts provisions, do not conflict with the mandates or goals of the Voting Rights Act.

In 2010, Florida voters approved two Fair Districts Amendments to our state constitution, one pertaining to U.S. Congress, the other to the state houses. The amendments were aimed at making the once-per-decade redistricting process less political and more geographically sensible.

Despite what Representative Brown and Republican lawmakers in Florida would like us to believe, there is no reason lawmakers can’t construct a map that satisfies both laws. The Fair Districts laws don’t prevent lawmakers from creating minority-access districts.

Two important questions arise when mapmakers are drawing a minority access district: First, how many “extra” voters does a district need to become a successful minority-access district? Second, how do the lines of the minority district affect the outcomes of elections in neighboring districts?

During the 2014 election, Brown won her CD 5 by a landslide, taking 65.5 percent of the vote. Since a candidate only needs 50 percent plus one vote in order to win, we can conclude that the congresswoman took 15 percent more votes than was necessary for her to win. Yes, that large margin of victory ensures minority access for CD 5, but is the margin too large?

When we look at the districts that are contiguous to Brown’s, the answer is clearly yes. The district snakes its way through several counties to scoop in democratic voters to deliver that 65.5 percent win. And when voters are scooped into one district, they’re scooped out of their neighboring districts. In short, District 5’s snaky shape goes out of its way to pull Democrats in, which means it goes out of its way to carve Democrats out of neighboring Republican districts.

Four surrounding districts, having been relieved of Democratic voters, become “safe” districts for Republicans, who also won in landslides: Congressman Ander Crenshaw took 78 percent of the vote; Ron Desantis won with 62 percent; Ted Yoho, 65 percent; Rich Nugent, 66.7 percent. None of those races were even close.

It’s easy to see why Republicans want to pack as many Democratic voters as possible into a single minority access district: because it makes all the surrounding districts “safe” for Republicans.

This type of gerrymandering results in skewed representation: While Florida’s registered Democrats outnumber its registered Republicans, 63 percent  of Florida’s U.S. House members are Republicans.

Republican lawmakers don’t give a flying fig about the Voting Rights Act. They use the federal law as subterfuge for constructing districts in a way that benefits them politically.

The Voting Rights Act was intended to help African-Americans elect the candidate of their choice. It was never intended to guarantee landslide victories for any individual candidates. It was certainly never intended to guarantee a 4-to-1 partisan advantage for Republicans in Northeast Florida.

Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Julie Delegal


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn