House faces scrutiny of minority districts, expediency as it navigates redistricting

Has there been enough discussion about whether there is sufficient minority influence now?

As the Florida Legislature works on redistricting, there has been a commitment not to diminish minority voting power. But some want more discussion about whether there’s sufficient influence now.

This week, Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, appeared at multiple redistricting meetings to address the topic. On the first day of Session, she brought the concern to the House Congressional Redistricting Committee.

“There has been so much change in the population,” Scoon said.

The federal Voting Rights Act includes voting rights protections for minority voters. When courts scrutinized maps produced a decade ago by the Florida Legislature, they ended up identifying majority-minority districts and districts with effective minority control, meaning racial and language minorities could elect candidates of their choosing.

The denoted districts have served as a guiding parameter as legislative staff drafted new legislative and congressional maps. But Scoon said since the courts were looking at data from the 2010 Census, it’s possible the lines drawn today employ numbers a decade out of date.

Rep. Dotie Joseph, a North Miami Democrat, said she’s been pushing on the same concerns since before the Legislative Session.

“I too am concerned about our Tier 1 standards,” she said, noting the top legal guidelines governing redistricting. “I am not sure how they have been taken into account in the maps.”

Rep. Tyler Sirois, the Merritt Island Republican who chairs the House Congressional Redistricting Committee, said the lower chamber remains in the early stages of the process and will address lawmaker concerns when it comes time to evaluate draft maps.

Notably, Senate staff has produced 25 draft maps of legislative and congressional cartography, but House staff has published just four to date.

Earlier in the day, Speaker Chris Sprowls said it’s taking the House longer to move through redistricting than the Senate, which wants to complete its reapportionment process this week. While both chambers will produce congressional maps with 28 districts, what impacts the process is that the House must draft 120 House districts, while the Senate configures just 40.

“The only reflection of our timeline is math,” Sprowls said. “The Senate has 40 districts, we have 120. Naturally, that’s a little more complicated to do. We’re happy our friends in the Senate are moving at their pace. We’re probably going to be a week or so, as a result of the fact that we just have more districts, we have more and more maps to draw. I think that Chair (TomLeek and the redistricting team are doing a good job of moving the process along, and it’ll continue.”

At the same time, the House Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee in charge of that 120-piece state House map met for less than 10 minutes on the first day of Session. Like its congressional counterpart, the subcommittee devoted this week to hearing in-person public input, of which there was little.

Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant made the trip to Tallahassee to complain about draft state House maps (H 8005, H 8007) that break up the Central Florida county into three districts.

“We should not allow Alachua, Putnam or Volusia counties to overly influence decisions,” Bryant said.

Meanwhile, Wakulla County Commissioner Ralph Thomas turned up to endorse the H 8007 because it keeps his county in a rural House district, rather than having the Panhandle community in the same jurisdiction as the more metropolitan Tallahassee.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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