Congresswoman-elect Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Miramar, is scheduled to take the oath of office on Tuesday, one week after she was elected.
The 20th District, which stretches from Miramar in southwest Broward to Riviera Beach in northeastern Palm Beach County, includes most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in the two counties. Cherfilus-McCormick is the first Haitian American Democrat elected to Congress.
It’s the first time Cherfilus-McCormick, 41, has been elected to office. The lawyer and CEO of home health care company Trinity Healthcare Services previously ran for Congress in 2018 and 2020.
Hastings died on April 6. When Cherfilus-McCormick takes office, the seat will have been vacant longer than nine months.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has the authority to set dates for special elections, kept the district unrepresented longer than any other similar vacancy in modern Florida history. It’s one of the longest vacancies anywhere in the nation during the last two decades.
DeSantis waited 30 days to set a special election, five days after a lawsuit was filed seeking a court order requiring him to act. He then set the special primary for Nov. 2 and a general election for Jan. 11.
The previous five special congressional elections took place an average of 154 days after the vacancy occurred, Harvard Election Law Clinic research shows. That’s more than four months shorter on average.
The late U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, a Tampa Bay-area Republican, is the only Florida member of Congress to die in office since 2000. Then-Gov. Rick Scott set the special primary for three months later. The special general election was almost five months after Young’s 2013 death.
In October 2009, then-U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler announced he would resign from his Broward-Palm Beach county seat in January 2010.
Then-Gov Charlie Crist set the special primary for early February. The special general election was in mid-April, so the seat was vacant for about 3½ months.
The winner of the special election, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, has been re-elected ever since.
DeSantis’ date-setting decision was controversial. Critics say that the delay was designed to keep a Democratic representative from the district — which is so heavily Democratic that the party’s nominee was virtually certain to win — out of the House of Representatives, thus making it harder for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass legislation.
An analysis by the data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight.com found a trend in recent years: Republican governors have been doing the same thing as DeSantis did, keeping vacancies in districts likely to elect members of the opposite political party open for increasingly long periods suggesting that “governors are increasingly delaying special elections to deprive their political opponents of a voice and vote in the House.”
FiveThirtyEight data showed that it’s especially pronounced in situations like the Hastings district, in which Republican governors are setting special elections in districts likely to elect Black Democrats. Those vacancies are being kept open especially long. “This political gamesmanship has disadvantaged districts with large Black populations in red [Republican] states especially.”
20th District results
Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick: 44,651 votes, 78.9%.
Republican Jason Mariner: 10,959 votes; 19.4%.
Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick: 32,814 votes; 82.3%.
Republican Jason Mariner: 6,222 votes; 15.6%.
Palm Beach County
Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick: 11,837 votes; 69.9%.
Republican Jason Mariner: 4,737 votes; 28.0%.
Note: A Libertarian candidate and two no party affiliation candidates received a total of 922 votes, or 1.6% of the vote, districtwide.
Sources: Florida Division of Elections, Broward and Palm Beach county supervisors of elections offices.