Gov. DeSantis takes over congressional redistricting in Florida
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Something really unusual has happened in Florida with congressional redistricting. The state legislature has thrown up its hands and is now asking Governor Ron DeSantis to take care of it. This comes after the governor vetoed the first set of maps. The move has left many wondering who wins and who loses and what the new maps will eventually look like.
NPR's Greg Allen joins us now to explain what all of this means. Hi, Greg.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right. So in Florida and, you know, like, in a lot of other states, the responsibility of drawing new congressional maps belongs to the legislature. Like, usually they want this job. So I don't get it. Why is the legislature now giving the job to the governor?
ALLEN: Well, you know, as you know, every 10 years, the states have to draw up these new congressional maps. And the census in Florida is one of just a couple of states that haven't completed the job yet. Well, Republican lawmakers took a very careful approach to drawing up the new maps when they started the job really early this spring. That's because they remembered a year - a decade ago when they spent lots of money and years in court over maps that were eventually thrown out.
So the maps they came up with were ones that they believe complied with state and federal law and would withstand court challenges. But Governor Ron DeSantis didn't like them. He says the law has changed over the last decade because of court decisions that have weakened the Federal Voting Rights Act, and he wants the maps to reflect that.
CHANG: OK. So now the legislature is like, all right, you handle it then. Has Governor DeSantis said what he even wants on these maps?
ALLEN: Well, we'll have to see what the maps look like when they probably are produced early next week. His office previously has drawn up maps that weaken or eliminate two African American voting districts in Florida. One is in north Florida, running from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. The other is in the Orlando area. At a news conference today, DeSantis was vague about what the final map will look like, saying his staff is still working on it.
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RON DESANTIS: It will, though, have North Florida drawn in a race-neutral manner. I mean, we are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divvies people based on the color of their skin.
CHANG: Well, what do you think? What impact will that have on what Florida's congressional delegation - like, what it will look like?
ALLEN: Right. Well, if you look at the current delegation, it's 27 members of Congress - 16 Republican, 11 Democrats. And because of a population increase, Florida's now gaining a seat in Congress. Maps produced earlier by DeSantis would likely give Republicans at least three more seats than they have now.
And as we've been talking, these maps will be challenged in court. Florida's constitution prohibits maps from being drawn in a way that decreases the voting power of minorities. It also prohibits them from having maps that benefit a certain political party or an incumbent, you know, what's been known as partisan gerrymandering. Michael McDonald, a redistricting expert and professor at the University of Florida, says that may be a problem for Governor DeSantis when his maps are challenged in court.
MICHAEL MCDONALD: As the racial component of this map is revealed or unwound as part of DeSantis' new maps, there may be also increase in partisan gerrymandering. And that could also trip up the map in review by the Florida Supreme Court because eventually it's going to go there.
CHANG: Right. OK. So legal challenges are inevitable. And if a challenge is successful, Greg, would these maps just get thrown out as well?
ALLEN: Well, probably not before the election, not until we have new members of Congress who are voted into office. Michael McDonald says for DeSantis and other Republicans who want to regain a majority in the House of Representatives, politically speaking, this has turned out to be a good strategy.
MCDONALD: They're probably going to get whatever maps they want for the 2022 elections and maybe even one or two elections beyond that before the courts may actually intervene and require different districts for Florida.
ALLEN: You know, legal challenges would move first through the state courts here in Florida and then possibly move to the federal system. The U.S. Supreme Court, though, has said that even if a lower court finds there's problems with the maps, it's too late to order new maps to be drawn before the next election.
CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thank you, Greg.
ALLEN: You're welcome.
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