Florida's reputation for ridiculous elections -- hanging chads, butterfly ballots, deliberately long lines, bruising lawsuits -- is deeply unfortunate. It's also accurate; the Sunshine State has never exactly been a shining example of democracy at its finest.
But Florida is at least supposed to be better than most when it comes to the once-a-decade process in which state policymakers re-draw the lines of the state's congressional districts. Two years ago, however, that apparently didn't go well
In a ruling released late Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis blasted the Republican establishment that created Florida's congressional map, saying they "made a mockery" of transparency, allowed for "improper partisan intent" and he ordered that two of the state's 27 districts drawn in 2012 violate the Fair District standards. In his 41-page ruling, the judge rejected challenges to districts in South Florida and that Tampa Bay but said that District 5, held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, and District 10, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, "will need to be redrawn, as will any other districts affected thereby."
The ruling doesn't pull any punches, blasting Republican operatives and consultants for making "a mockery of the Legislature's transparent and open process of redistricting," "conspiring to manipulate and influence the redistricting process," while "going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it."
There are lingering questions about just how much GOP lawmakers knew about the outside interference, though in this case, we'll never know for sure -- the Florida Republicans involved in the process destroyed emails and other redistricting documents before the matter went to court.
"There is no legal duty on the part of the Legislature to preserve these records, but you have to wonder why they didn't,'' the judge wrote.
Wait, you mean there was shameless Republican manipulation of a process related to fair elections -- in Florida? Who would have guessed?
As for what happens now, state officials will very likely appeal yesterday's ruling.
If the decision stands, however, the impact is likely to be felt statewide
A Democratic source familiar with state party politics said that party attorneys will be digesting the ruling into the night Thursday and Friday. The key question, the source said, was how much the changes to the two districts will affect the other seats. [...] David King, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview Thursday evening the ruling "will have an impact on the districts in central Florida. That was one of major areas we had focused on in the trial." Dr. Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida, said in a Thursday phone interview that redrawing those two districts would likely have a ripple effect in central Florida and could affect other areas of the state. While there are a number of possible scenarios, he speculated a number of the districts in the north and central part of the state would be affected. "That's probably where you're going to see the largest effect," said McDonald.
Whether the lines will have to be redrawn in time for this year's elections -- and whether that's even possible -- is not yet clear.