Election officials want Florida’s congressional lines in place before end of April

Mark Earley and Lori Edwards say they need to see a map well before qualification week.

Election supervisors say Florida already passed the point of “ample time” to implement a congressional map. One wants cartography locked before April 29, within a week of the scheduled close of a Special Session on reapportionment.

Courts should give the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis one more shot at producing a map, say plaintiffs in a federal case. But judges should be prepared to impose a map of their own choosing before the end of the month if elected officials can’t get their act together.

“Plaintiffs ask this Court to set a briefing schedule that will permit it to hold a hearing and decide upon a new map as early as the last week in April,” reads a legal brief from plaintiffs. “That will give the Legislature one last chance to draw congressional lines that the Governor will accept.”

Common Cause of Florida, Fair Districts Now and other plaintiffs filed suit in federal court last month asserting if lawmakers and the Governor couldn’t move in concert, judges must intervene.

The lawsuit landed days after the Florida Legislature on March 4 passed a congressional map (H 8019) that sought to address DeSantis’ stated concerns about a North Florida congressional district, and also attached a secondary map (H 8015) that left a current configuration of that district largely intact. But DeSantis already promised to veto the map by the time it passed, and he did so on March 29.

DeSantis called a Special Session for April 19 to April 22. To date, staff for the Legislature has yet to publish any new draft maps.

Plaintiffs in their lawsuit suggested the process at this time has become drawn-out and problematic.

“It is already too late to assure ‘ample time’ to permit a new congressional plan to be adopted for use in the upcoming election,” plaintiffs wrote. “Despite this emergency, the State actors have produced nothing and have moved at a leisurely pace.”

Secretary of State Laurel Lee notably disagrees. Attorneys for Lee in a motion filed early this month said the state needs to have a map in place by June 13, the first day candidates can qualify to run for Congress. All candidates must qualify by noon on June 17. “In an apportionment year, such as this one, congressional candidates can collect the necessary number of signatures from anywhere in the State,” that brief notes.

But it’s not just the needs of candidates that should dictate the timeline, plaintiffs argue. Election supervisors say they need time to calibrate precincts and implement new maps in order to actually administer elections for Congress.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley and Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards both say they need maps sooner than Lee’s office claims. Each filed declarations in federal court laying out the consequences delays in redistricting have already caused.

Edwards, a former Democratic state lawmaker, said a map must be in place somewhere between April 29 and May 13 in order to adequately prepare for the election.

“I estimate that it will take a minimum of six to eight weeks from the date that a new congressional district plan is enacted and census block files are delivered to counties in Florida,” she said.

The counties simply need time to implement maps after they get approved. That likely means redrawing county precinct maps so that as few poll locations serve multiple congressional districts as possible, she said. That’s an intricate and technical process in itself. Once new precinct maps are ready, they need the approval of the local County Commission, which meets every two weeks.

Earley believes his office could implement a map in less time, as little as four weeks. But he needs the lines by May 27 “at the absolute latest.” As president-elect of Florida Supervisors of Elections, the state association of county election supervisors, he has heard from other counties that need more time. Large counties have much more technical preparation before any election. Small ones lack the staff and technology to quickly get the work done. And even those with the best technology simply have an enormous amount of labor in a redistricting year to reassign all voters to appropriate legislative and congressional districts before the next election.

“For most counties, including Leon, this process is not automated,” he said.

Earley and Edwards both hold nonpartisan office but have ties to the Democratic party. But Earley said elections offices across the state raised concerns with him about timing.

Both Edwards and Earley made note of federal requirements on the mailing of ballots to military and overseas voters.

“Ballot preparation and proofing ballots cannot begin until after the proper geographic boundaries for voting districts are set, geocoding is complete, the candidates are known, and the candidate-filing period closes,” he wrote. “The process of generating and proofing ballots is complex and involves multiple technical systems and quality-control measures that precede ballot editing and coding of voting machines.”

If it takes too long, Edwards wrote, it will quickly become impossible for election supervisors to complete their work by the August Primary Election.

“It will be impossible to perform the tasks creating new precincts and assigning districts to all voters in time to meet the necessary deadlines,” she wrote.

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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