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There’s a battle royal raging over Florida’s congressional districts, with most most of the focus on whether a map should or shouldn’t be drawn to maximize the chances for electing a Black member of Congress along the state’s northern border.
But the outcome of the special legislative session on congressional redistricting that begins April 19 could also impact who wins two Broward-Palm Beach county congressional districts.
One thing is certain: the borders of the six congressional districts that take in all or parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties will change before the August primaries and November general election. Political insiders don’t see radical changes that would upend congressional campaigns and dramatically alter the chances of various candidates — but, until a statewide map is finalized, anything is possible.
“I feel genuinely bad for anyone running for Congress,” said Florida House Democratic leader Evan Jenne. “It is a hot mess right now.”
All states with more than one member of Congress need new districts for the 2022 elections.
The districts are supposed to reflect population changes uncovered in the 2020 Census. Under the one-person, one-vote doctrine handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, each district is supposed to have an equal population.
Florida is also getting one additional district, for a total of 28, because of the state’s above-average population growth in the last decade. And within the state, some areas have grown faster than others.
Redistricting isn’t as simple as just dividing the state. Depending on the configuration of a district, it’s likely — in many cases certain — to elect a Democrat or a Republican. Truly competitive districts are rare.
Democrats narrowly control the U.S. House. An extra seat or two from Florida in the Republican party could help the governor’s party take over.
FiveThirtyEight.com, which specializes in analyzing data, found that two maps produced by the Florida Legislature would add one Republican-leaning seat. One map proposed by DeSantis would add three more Republican-leaning seats and a second DeSantis map would add four Republican-leaning seats.
Also, the way district boundaries are drawn, a district can be much more likely to elect a Black or Hispanic member of Congress.
Republicans who control the state Legislature passed a plan, containing two possible maps, that was likely to preserve or enhance the Republican domination of the state’s congressional delegation, which currently stands at 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Many states where one party is in control do the same thing, trying to enhance their side’s number of members of Congress.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted a plan that would be even more advantageous to Republicans, and he vetoed the congressional redistricting passed by his own party’s legislators. So for now, there’s no congressional map in place; candidates qualify to get on the ballot in mid-June.
As soon as he vetoed the Legislature’s plans, DeSantis immediately scheduled a special legislative session for April 19-22, summoning lawmakers back to Tallahassee for the sole purpose of coming up with congressional districts.
The biggest area of contention, cited by DeSantis, was the drawing of boundaries in north Florida, which are currently configured in a way that greatly increases the chance for a Black member of Congress for the region.
Under mid-1980s revisions to the federal Voting Rights Act, congressional boundaries are drawn with a goal of increasing the chance that someone from a minority group can win an election and bring a voice that otherwise wouldn’t be heard to the halls of Congress. It immediately produced results: In 1992 Florida elected its first Black members of Congress since 1877, when the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction ended.
Currently, Florida has four Black members of Congress, all Democrats: Al Lawson from north Florida, Val Demings from Orlando, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick from Broward and Palm Beach counties, and Frederica Wilson from Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Demings is running for U.S. Senate. But reconfiguration of her district would make it harder for a Black candidate to win in 2022.
DeSantis objected so much to preserving Lawson’s district that his office took the unusual move of submitting two plans of his own to the Legislature early in the annual session.
DeSantis said the Lawson district — which stretches for 200 miles from Jacksonville to Gadsden County west of Tallahassee — violates the U.S. Constitution. He said it was racially gerrymandered.
An analysis from DeSantis’ general counsel, which the governor cited in announcing his veto, said that the Legislature didn’t need to draw a minority seat in north Florida, and by setting those boundaries ended up illegally assigning voters primarily on race without showing a compelling state interest in doing so.
State Rep. Kelly Skidmore of Palm Beach County, the top Democrat on the House Congressional redistricting subcommittee, said DeSantis’ agenda is something different: “A blatant attempt to reduce the Democratic representatives by two African American seats.”
Big changes in the political affiliations of the six members of Congress from Broward and Palm Beach counties aren’t likely to change when the redistricting is all done.
The territory is so Democratic that it would be difficult for Republicans to increase their numbers (currently they have one).
But new maps could change who gets elected, and upend political careers.
The two versions of maps the Legislature sent the governor didn’t differ on how they divided South Florida, though they did make changes in the region. The two plans the governor’s office drafted and submitted early in the legislative session, featured significant changes to South Florida districts.
Cherfilus-McCormick district: One of the two top contests this year features U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, and former Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, both Democrats. Holness lost a 2021 special primary election to Cherfilus-McCormick by just five votes.
The Legislature’s approved, but vetoed maps, would have a district similar to what it is today, and include most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
It would no longer include the heavily Caribbean American city of Miramar, which is where Cherfilus-McCormick is from. Caribbean American voters are important to both candidates. Cherfilus-McCormick is the first Haitian American Democrat elected to Congress. Holness is Jamaican American.
DeSantis’ plans would make the district Broward-only. The county’s black voters would likely have enough influence in the district to elect a Black member of Congress. But African American and Caribbean American communities in Palm Beach County likely wouldn’t have a Black representative.
That proposed district, without Palm Beach County, would likely have favored Holness.
In the Broward part of the current district, Holness came in first in 2021, with 29% of the vote to 22% for Cherfilus-McCormick. In Palm Beach County, Cherfilus-McCormick received 30% of the vote and Holness 8%.
Deutch district: Several candidates are running, or considering campaigns, to succeed U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who isn’t seeking re-election, in a district that currently includes most of Broward north of Interstate 595 plus southeast Palm Beach County.
In the Legislature’s maps, the district would not change much — a bit more of Palm Beach County and a bit less of Broward, but still it would take in Parkland and most of the coast from Deerfield Beach through Fort Lauderdale.
The governor’s proposed maps — both of which were presented before Deutch announced he was leaving and Moskowitz said he was running — would make it a coastal district.
One would include some of Moskowitz’s base, along with a long stretch of the coast from Delray Beach south, extending almost to Bal Harbour in Miami-Dade County.
The other proposed map from the governor’s office would cut out Moskowitz’s base (northwest Broward) and run mostly along the coast, picking up Delray Beach, parts of Broward and extending as far South as Miami Beach.
That kind of a district could be more friendly to a coastal candidate, like Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Ben Sorensen, who has already announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, or Democratic state Sen. Gary Farmer, who is considering a run.
A heavily Miami-Dade version might have prompted one of the county’s state senators, Democrat Jason Pizzo, to consider running. Pizzo has announced his candidacy for another term in the state Senate, running in a newly configured district that’s mostly in Broward County. Farmer might run for the same state Senate seat if he decides against a congressional bid.
The ultimate configuration of the district could determine whether an elected Republican, state Rep. Chip LaMarca, who has a coastal Broward base, makes a run for Congress. LaMarca said recently he and his wife Eileen would decide after new district boundaries are crafted.
Wasserman Schultz district: Under the Legislature-passed and governor-vetoed maps, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz would get an all-Broward district taking in almost everything south of Interstate 595 and a little territory to the north. Currently her district extends southeast into Miami-Dade County.
Under one of the governor’s two proposed maps, she’d keep her Weston base, but would lose Hollywood and coastal Miami-Dade County south through Surfside — and pick up vast territory in Palm Beach County west of Florida’s Turnpike all the way to Lake Okeechobee.
Under the governor’s other proposed map, she’d also keep her Weston base, lose Hollywood and eastern Miami-Dade County — and pick up some of western Miami-Dade County.
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Under all four maps, Wasserman Schultz is favored to win. So is U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat. The Legislature’s maps and the governor’s would all retain an all-Palm Beach County district, though with some differences in exactly what territory would be included.
In announcing his veto of the lawmakers’ plans, DeSantis said he expected that “the Legislature is going to pass something that will get my signature,” explaining that the two maps his office proposed earlier this year would get his signature.
They don’t have to use any of the previous work product from the Legislature or the governor.
“At the end of the day, it’s in everybody’s best interest to do something, get a product done and just move on with the election season,” he said.
Skidmore said judges would be the ultimate arbiters. “I have my faith and hope in the court system to do the right thing.”