Florida’s Supreme Court delivered a bombshell yesterday, striking down 8 of the 27 congressional districts in Florida. The court ruled in a 5-2 decision that the Legislature drew the congressional boundaries with partisan intent.
The Court ordered districts 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26, and 27 be redrawn.
The redrawing of these districts will not just affect those listed, but almost every surrounding district. There are many potential changes that can take place with the districts. Because of the high uncertainty, I will be focusing on just the districts struck down and what the ruling means for them and their neighbors. Some outcomes seem fairly certain, while others are much less clear. It should be noted any maps of district boundary changes in this article are educated guesses. No one can predict for sure what the Legislature will do.
The clear losers: David Jolly and Gwen Graham
While there is a great deal of uncertainty in how new districts may turn out, it appears clear that District 13 U.S. Rep. David Jolly and District 2 U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are both in a great deal of trouble. Jolly’s district encompasses the white, swing region of Pinellas. The African-American southern end of St. Petersburg has been linked to Congressional District 14, which stretches across the bay in Tampa. The court ruled that the African-American voters of Pinellas should be in a district based out of Pinellas, meaning they will be put into Jolly’s district. This will take Jolly from being in a swing seat that narrowly voted for Obama to a seat that leans Democratic.
As the map shows, Jolly will gain an area over 80 percent in support of President Obama. Jolly’s district would then need to lose voters to keep the population balanced. The northern precincts would be the only logical area for the district to lose votes. A fairly basic cut off the top would take out precincts that narrowly backed Romney. This leaves a district that will hover around 54 percent to 55 percent Obama depending on which precincts get cut. Either way is a bad position for Jolly. Jolly may try to fight it out or he may opt to run for the U.S. Senate seat. Regardless of Jolly’s next move, this district represents a good pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Gwen Graham cannot be much happier about the decision than Jolly is. When the court struck down District 5, the snake-like creation that stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando, it called for a district that was an East-West oriented district, rather than North-South.
The court stated the district still needed to have an African-American plurality. The court did not insist upon any specific boundary. However, the Legislature is likely to go with the district proposed by those suing over the map – the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and the National Council of La Raza. The proposed district stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.
While it is possible to create a district with a 42.7 percent African-American voting-age population (the minimum the court implied was needed) without touching Congressional District 2, it is unlikely to happen. The Legislature knows that by going with a Jacksonville to Tallahassee district, it forces Gwen Graham to either run in a heavily African-American seat or in a very conservative rural seat.
The map above is loosely based on the Tallahassee-Jacksonville district proposed. This map would force two Democratic congresswomen, Brown and Graham, to fight for one seat, while the new District 2, having lost key Democratic voters and gaining rural conservatives, would be unwinnable for Democrats. This would make District 2 a Republican pickup, thus negating the likely loss of Jolly’s district. I have every reason to believe the Legislature will go this route in order to cost Democrats a district.
Another potential loser: Daniel Webster
Webster’s fate depends on several scenarios for Orange County. With District 5 no longer allowed to go to Orlando, the Legislature must do something about the African-Americans of Orange County. Right now the African-American population is in District 5. However, with District 5 now likely to go east-west, the African-American voters of Orange will have to go somewhere. The map below shows where African-American voters are concentrated. The boundary of District 5 perfectly surrounds almost every heavily African-American precinct.
The Legislature will find little compelling reason to not put them in a district based out of Orange. One Republican-friendly idea would be for them to get put in District 9, the Hispanic-access, and safe-Democratic, seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. However, doing so would dilute the Hispanic population, which the Court could see as having clear partisan intent (packing all minorities to keep the other districts white).
The Legislature could try to split the black vote between the 10th, held by Webster, and the 7th, held by Mica, but that would also fall under judicial scrutiny. If either Mica or Webster had to bite the bullet, I would bet on Webster, who has been a congressman less time and has angered Speaker John Boehner. Webster used to be the Florida speaker and Senate majority leader. However, thanks to term limits, many current legislators never served with him.
If Webster were to take in the African-American voters, he would have to lose other population centers. The Legislature would probably remove the area south of Orange County, which narrowly backed Obama, to take a little Democratic punch out of the seat. Some other regions would also need to go to keep the population centered. Either way, taking in such a large number of African-American voters would change the partisan nature of the district dramatically. The map below shows the precinct results of the area, with the dark black border on the left map showing the potential new boundary. The map to the right shows which areas may be lost, gained, or retained.
If Webster is forced to take in the African-American voters, he will likely have to lose precincts in the south and north. The potential new district does look nice and compact.
The problem for the Legislature is justifying where else to put the African-American voters. Lawmakers could get creative, but they will be under judicial scrutiny. Even if the Legislature can lessen the Democratic gains for the district, the seat is likely to become far more competitive.
Several of the other district changes are fairly small in nature. Congressional Districts 26 and 27 were thrown out because Homestead, a Democratic city, was split between them. The court ordered that Homestead be in one entire district. The city is small, and will only result in a few votes needing to be moved.
The map below shows the city and the margin of votes Obama won each half of the city by.
I would say the legislature will put all of Homestead in District 27, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s district. Ros-Lehtinen is safe in District 27 thanks to her popularity. In District 26, however, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo was just elected and is more vulnerable. The part of Homestead on District 26 has more net Obama votes, making the district less Democratic if it loses them. Obama won District 26 by around 18,000 votes, so losing the city will marginally affect it. This will only slightly change either district’s overall electoral dynamic.
Over in District 25, which is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the court ruled the district could not split rural Hendry County. Right now, District 25 takes the more Hispanic western half of the county, leaving the eastern half and its modest African-American population in District 20, an African-American district. The court ruled Hendry is to be made whole.
Hendry could either end up entirely in District 20 or 25 as the court did not appear to demand one or the other. If District 25 takes the area in question (in green on the map), it will only gain a few thousand people. Obama won the area by 450 or so votes (precinct splits make the precise number unclear). Such a small number won’t make District 25 much more Democratic, and it will remain a modestly Republican-leaning seat.
Returning to the Tampa Bay region – with the court ordering the African-American precincts of Pinellas to not be linked to a district in Tampa, that leaves District 14, represented by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, in need of additional voters. The district currently has a white voting age population of around 46 percent.
The Legislature can easily add in areas while maintaining the minority-access status of the district. There are two options for them. They can either take in Plant City while also losing some of the southern, coastal precincts (some of which are heavily white), or it can take in the northern areas of Tampa, while also taking in a few more western precincts in the Brandon area.
Both options involve the district taking in areas with sizable nonwhite populations.
I believe taking in the rest of the city of Tampa makes the most sense; it is more compact and it makes the city whole in the district. The voting age population can be maintained anywhere around 47 percent to 49 percent white. Many different tweaks and changes are possible. There are several precincts in southern Hillsborough with sizable Hispanic population that could stay in the district. Regardless of exact change, the district will maintain a sizable Democratic advantage, putting U.S. Rep. Castor in little jeopardy.
Finally, the last districts that must be changed are District 21 and 22, represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel respectively. The court ruled that the two districts were unreasonably non-compact, largely thanks to Frankel’s district covering so much coastline. The court cited a proposal to stack the two districts on top of each other as a way to improve the map, though it didn’t demand it. The proposed stacked districts, next to the current districts, were cited in the court’s decision; the map is below.
The Legislature will have to take care not to mess with District 20, which takes in African-American voters in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. There are many other options other than the stacked districts shown in the image. Deutch and Frankel could wind up in the same seat, potentially forcing a primary between the two. Both districts are likely to remain Democratic and it is reasonable to assume Frankel and Deutch will run for separate districts, even if one of them moves. The picture will become clearer when a proposed map is presented.
This article represents just a glance at the most affected districts and how things may change. It cannot be stressed enough that any changes will come down to what the Legislature does and if the court approves the new map. Many other members of Congress will see their districts affected. If North Florida is redistricted east to west, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho could see many parts of his district go into Districts 2 and 5; while taking in many new areas. In fact, much of Northeast Florida would need to be redrawn if the east-west districts are implemented.
To highlight this point, below is a map of Northeast Florida. The potential east-west District 5 (safe Democratic) and District 2 (safe Republican) are shown, while the red area shows all the former parts of District 5 that will be reassigned. The district also shows what areas Yoho would retain and lose from his current district.
In this scenario, Yoho has little of his district left and any seat he represents would move further east. However, if Yoho’s district takes in St. Johns, or Flagler, or Marion, it will dramatically change districts 6 and/or 11. The dominoes will continue to fall. The potential changes there are infinite and possibilities can be saved for another time. Many other changes will likely happen further south.
It will be very hard for the Legislature to keep changes contained to only a handful of districts outside the initial eight thrown out. In the meantime all we can do is wait to see what the Legislature does, doing our best to predict what they may draw. With any luck some of what we predict may turn into reality. The Legislature has 100 days from the date of the decision to pass new maps. For many members of Congress, it is going to be a stressful few months.
More observations by Matthew Isbell can be found at MCIMAPS.COM