While the Senate passed its redistricting maps with broad bipartisan support, the only vote so far on a House map advanced on a party-line vote. At a Monday press event featuring House Democrats, party leaders signaled that may continue.
“We have concerns that minority representation and the Voting Rights Act are not being adhered to,” said House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne. “That’s just something our caucus cannot abide.”
Jenne and Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat, discussed fears that state and U.S. House maps coming out of the GOP-led House of Representatives won’t properly reflect population growth among ethnic minorities in the last decade.
“Given the growth in Black and Latino populations, should it have resulted in the creation of more districts where more people of color have a fair chance at being elected?” Driskell asked. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get those answers.”
That’s a concern echoed by some watchdog groups throughout the once-a-decade redrafting of Florida’s political boundaries. The League of Women Voters of Florida appeared at nearly every redistricting committee for the House and Senate and frequently questioned the decision to look at voter performance by minorities only in “benchmark districts,” or those identified by courts as minority access seats based on the 2010 Census.
Republican leaders and staff members have defended the process, stating the top priority in redistricting this year should be creating constitutional maps that can survive court scrutiny.
Rep. Cord Byrd, the Neptune Beach Republican chairing the House Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee, said last week that all census data was taken into consideration by cartographers working for the committee.
He called a House map approved on a party-line 14-7 vote “a constitutionally compliant work this committee can be proud of.” The map produced the same number of minority districts — 30 — as one passed by the House in 2012 that survived court muster.
But the League, as well as groups like Latino Justice, have argued staff in the House and Senate have not done enough to see whether Florida has enough minority access districts. The groups noted about 1.5 million more Hispanic voters now live in Florida as compared to the 2010 Census.
In the Senate, these concerns prompted some Democrats to vote against maps. But there were just four votes against the final U.S. House map passed in the upper chamber and three votes against the Senate map. Some Democrats, including some representing minority access districts like Sen. Shevrin Jones, voted for the maps.
“Thank you all so much for the process you laid forth,” Jones told GOP leaders from the floor.
Granted, the House must divide Florida into 120 House districts. That’s compared with 28 congressional districts and 40 Senate districts. That gives an opportunity to create smaller districts representing communities of interest.
“If you look at just the raw numbers in terms of population growth, we have to continue to ask those questions about whether or not there should be more minority access seats,” Driskell said.
Importantly, Jenne said that’s a concern the caucus takes seriously with the U.S. House map, with the largest population districts under consideration.
“We have a responsibility as legislators and as elected officials to make sure that different communities have the voice of their choice in every level of government,” he said.