Florida Legislature asks judge to delay new map

 

Associated Press

A Florida judge was told Thursday that there is no practical way to redraw the state's congressional districts before this year's elections.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis held a hearing Thursday to consider what steps to take since ruling that the current congressional is unconstitutional because two districts were drawn to benefit the Republican Party.

Republican legislative leaders announced this week that they do not plan to appeal the ruling but they want Lewis to let them redraw districts after the November elections.

Lawyers for the state Legislature, as well the state's election supervisors and the state office that oversee elections told Lewis that voting has already begun in the state's Aug. 26 primary.

Ron Labasky, an attorney representing 66 of the state's 67 election supervisors, said that some election officials have already received completed absentee ballots. An estimated 1.4 million ballots are expected to be mailed out by next Tuesday.

"I'm not sure how we back up and allow someone to vote again in a new district," Labasky told the judge.

Florida has one of the latest scheduled primary elections held in the United States and there is a tight window between the primary and the Nov. 4 general election. The state's handling of past elections has sparked national ridicule and court battles. Lewis himself was one of the judges involved in the legal challenges surrounding the 2000 presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore.

Lewis did not make any decision during the 20-minute hearing and instead agreed to schedule a longer hearing next week.

The judge conceded that he had not considered the potential effect on the 2014 elections because he had assumed someone would appeal his landmark ruling. Lewis also noted that the state Supreme Court is considering an appeal on whether evidence should have been used during the 12-day trial held on the districts.

Republican consultants have contended that the emails and documents should have remained private. Lewis heard testimony about the evidence, but it was done in a closed courtroom and it has not been made public.

David King, an attorney representing the groups that sued the Legislature, argued to Lewis there is still time to redraw the state's congressional districts this year. He also said it was wrong to have voters select members of Congress based on a map that has already been declared invalid.

"We have already had one election on an unconstitutional map in 2012," King said.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years based on U.S. Census numbers. In 2010, the state's voters adopted "Fair Districts" amendments to the state constitution saying legislators could no longer draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party, a practice known as gerrymandering.

Groups suing the Legislature contended that GOP consultants helped create a "shadow" process in 2012 with the intent of drawing districts to favor Republicans.

Lewis agreed that there was enough evidence to show that two districts violated the new standards. One is the sprawling territory stretching from Jacksonville to Orlando that's home to Democratic U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown. The other is a central Florida district home to U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.

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