Gerrymandering Lawsuit Could Affect 2014 Florida Congressional Races

Sunday, 01 Jun 2014 10:15 AM

By Elliot Jager

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A case brought by the League of Women Voters and Democratic-leaning plaintiffs could force the Republican-controlled state legislature to redraw Florida's "lopsided" election districts before the midterm elections, The Washington Post reported.

Both houses of the Florida legislature are controlled by Republicans as is the governor's mansion. Republicans had invested heavily in winning the legislature in advance of the once-in-a-decade redrawing process.

The lawsuit being heard by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis hinges on whether the current lines violate the state's "Fair Districts" law that was intended to create equally competitive districts.

The law, which applies to the state's congressional lines, was ratified in 2010 by over 60 percent of voters, the Post reported.

The court is hearing testimony that Republicans purposefully drew districts that favored their party. A GOP consultant drafted a discarded plan that would have given Democrats an advantage. The map demonstrated that it would have been possible to draw boundaries that were more competitive, the Post reported.

The consultant, Pat Bainter, is one of dozens of witnesses, including former members of the legislature testifying at the trial. Besides the map, some 500 documents are also being scrutinized by the judge, the Post reported. Bainter's firm said its work was confidential so Lewis agreed to hear testimony about its maps behind closed doors, the Miami Herald  reported.

The court was also expected to hear testimony from former Florida State University student Alex Posada, The Tampa Bay Times reported. He submitted a map, supposedly in response to the legislature's request for input from the public, portions of which were identical to a map created earlier by GOP lawmakers.

In a court deposition, Posada said he had been an intern at the Republican Party of Florida and apologized for earlier claiming that the map — part of which was ultimately adopted — was his, the Miami Herald reported.

Political Scientist Michael McDonald of George Mason University said that if the court rules for the plaintiffs, "you're talking about a potential four-seat swing to Democrats," the Post reported.

Statistics professor Jonathan Katz of California Institute of Technology described the boundaries as having followed a "recipe" for "how to do a partisan gerrymander" and described the maps as lopsided, according to the Post.

GOP legislators said that, while Republican consultants had reviewed the lines before they were made public, the districts were not designed to give their party partisan advantage, the Post reported.

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