A judge says he will consider the logistical obstacles of delaying elections. | AP Photo
A Florida judge has asked the state legislature to redraw the state’s congressional map by Aug. 15, holding out the possibility that Florida could postpone some or all of its House elections until after the scheduled general election on Nov. 4.
After weeks of nudging from Democratic groups and uncertainty for candidates running in House races, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis — who previously ruled the state’s congressional map violated the Florida Constitution — on Friday provided some clarity on how a new map could still affect the 2014 election.
“Even if a revised map was in place today, the legal and logical machinations it would take to have the election on November 4th under that revised map is not something justified by law or common sense,” Lewis said in the decision.
“There is just no way, legally or logistically, to put in place a new map, amend the various deadlines and have elections on November 4th, as prescribed by Federal law. … However it might be possible to push the general election date back to allow for a special election in 2014 for any affected districts.”
Lewis, who ruled last month that the Republican-controlled legislature made a “mockery” of Florida’s Fair Districts amendment by taking politics into consideration when drawing two of the state’s 27 congressional districts, asked the legislature on Friday to submit a “remedial or revised map” within two weeks, denying their request that the new map not be put in place until after the 2014 election.
After that new map is submitted, Lewis said he would “consider additional evidence as to the legal and logistical obstacles to holding delayed elections for affected districts in 2014.” A hearing is set for Aug. 20, less than a week before the scheduled primary elections.
Although Lewis specifically invalidated only two districts — the 5th and the 10th in central Florida, which are represented by Democrat Corrine Brown and Republican Dan Webster, respectively — redrawing those lines would cause a ripple effect that could change the boundaries for several other districts as well.
“It throws the coming primary elections into chaos,” said Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University and redistricting consultant who has worked in several states. “Primary elections are supposed to be held on Aug. 26, and that’s just a few weeks away, and the map may change.”
“There are people who have been campaigning in these districts, and now they might not want to waste resources on mailers, going door-to-door, doing phone banks on constituents who might not even be part of the district,” McDonald added.
The judge’s decision to toss out the congressional map came after a 12-day trial in May. Top state legislators and Republican consultants testified during the trial, as Democrats tried to show that political consultants were actively involved in helping the legislators draw the maps to give their party an advantage in several districts.
The plaintiffs in the case — the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and other Democratic-aligned groups — were largely funded by National Democratic Redistricting Trust, which was formed to fund the party’s efforts to combat Republicans who sought to solidify their historic win in 2010 through the redistricting process.
Depending on how the districts are redrawn, Democrats could to pick up seats in the state; Republicans currently hold a 17-10 advantage in the House delegation, despite an overall voter-registration edge for Democrats.