Time is running out as appeals court grapples with how to handle Florida’s congressional card

Govt. Ron DeSantis signed on a new congress map less than a month ago. A circuit court judge this month order a replacement card is used instead. With candidates weeks away from qualifying, what mapping should election officials use?

Briefs filed in appeals court deal with scheduling issues and rapidly approaching deadlines as they argue over the DeSantis card and the one submitted by the Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabeici. Meanwhile, the midterms draw ever closer as an appeals court weighs what should happen next in Florida’s redistricting process.

Attorneys for the Secretary of State Byrd cord want a stay on Leon Circuit Judge by Layne Smith ordinance replacing the Congress card. Lawyer Mohammad Jazil argued that election supervisors have limited time to prepare for an Aug. 23 primary. He also argued the map (P0109) approved by the legislator in special session then signed went through a proper and legal process, so officials should use it to govern elections this year.

“The Florida Legislature was required to adopt the map adopted this year due to the decennial census,” Jazil wrote. “Indeed, redistricting laws are different from other legislation in that they must be updated after each decennial census.”

But lawyers for Black Voters Matter and other plaintiffs challenging the map have argued the process has proven particularly flawed this year. They also therefore the extended time should not be used to justify the use of a card already judged by the circuit court for violate the constitution of the state.

“The trial court also found that a plan that preserved the ability of black voters to elect the candidate of their choice in North Florida would be workable for Florida supervisors because it would only affect a handful of counties and could be implemented quickly and without significant administrative difficulties,” reads a brief filed by plaintiff’s attorney. Frederick Wermuth.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit claiming that the DeSantis map set violates the Fair Districts Amendment to the Florida Constitution. But with the Midterms so close, they asked Smith to issue an injunction on the map that only affected North Florida.

The Ansolabehere map submitted by plaintiffs and favored by Smith preserves Florida’s 5th congressional district in a configuration similar to the last three election cycles and identical to a map approved by the Legislature but vetoed by DeSantis earlier this year. This leads to changes in neighboring neighborhoods.

DeSantis argued earlier this year that the composition of CD 5, introduced by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015, was wrongly drawn with race as the motivating factor. State attorneys argue that such a setup intentionally favors Democrats in violation of the Fair Districts Amendment and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.

But this year’s election schedule provides the greatest pressure on immediate decisions. The appeals court this week asked for briefs dealing specifically with the impact of using either card on the election status quo.

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State attorneys and plaintiffs challenging the DeSantis map noted that Florida cannot simply use the same map as in previous election cycles. Due to the population growth documented in the 2020 census, Florida won one seat in Congress, so the two maps in question divide Florida into 28 districts instead of 27. Additionally, the most recent census data Maps show that the old districts are ill-distributed, meaning their populations differ significantly, while the two new maps balance districts at the same population within a single person.

In a separate court case, a Polk County election supervisor argued that the maps absolutely had to be in place by May 13, a date that has since passed, for officials to properly run the elections. However, the replacement map would not impact this Central Florida county.

The plaintiffs challenging the map note that the state has already ordered election supervisors in North Florida to prepare for the election in the event either map is enacted.

“As the trial court observed and the secretary acknowledged, election supervisors are capable of preparing for both eventualities,” Wermuth wrote. “There is no need for this Court to prevent them from doing so.”

State Department attorneys argue that the state should default to the map signed by the governor in April as the status quo, while plaintiffs argue that a map that preserves CD 5 would be most familiar to voters.

Smith ordered the replacement be used and overturned an automatic stay of his decision that went into effect when the state appealed the ruling. This means that the appeals judges must act to have the DeSantis card reinstated. Either way, the case is likely headed to the Florida Supreme Court regardless of the decision, and plaintiffs challenging the map have suggested in writing that the 1st District Court of Appeals should simply certify the Smith’s decision and forward it promptly to the High Court.

Meanwhile, the toughest deadline surrounding the election comes in mid-June. Candidate qualification begins June 13 and ends June 17 at noon. At this point, any candidate running for Congress, including incumbents, must have papers and certified as to where they intend to run this year.


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