Special session to redraw congressional map set to begin Thursday

John Kennedy | The Palm Beach Post | 08/04/2014

TALLAHASSEE — Facing a court-ordered deadline, the Florida Legislature will go into special session this week to redraw the state’s congressional district map.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sent a Sunday night email to state representatives, telling them that they will be forced to return to Tallahassee Thursday to begin the session.

“We continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process,” Weatherford wrote in his email. “Florida’s Supervisors of Elections have raised serious concerns over changing the elections process at this late date.”

Lawmakers are expected to have committees do the work this week on reworking the districts held by U.S. Reps. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, which were ruled unconstitutional by Leon Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis. Final floor votes in the House and Senate are likely to occur the following week.

In his ruling, the judge concluded that Webster and Brown’s districts were drawn to help ruling Republicans maintain their overwhelming command of the state’s 27-member congressional delegation. While Lewis invalidated the entire plan — and districts neighboring Webster and Brown’s may need retooling, too — South Florida districts look likely to remain untouched by the rewrite.

Lewis, however, last week also gave lawmakers a tight deadline. He wants to have the redrawn plan submitted to him by Aug. 15 and set a hearing date five days later for arguments on objections to the redrawn districts. Lewis has also asked state elections officials to submit a proposed new election schedule, raising the possibility that the Aug. 26 primary may have to be delayed for congressional contests.

In his email to members on Sunday, Weatherford cited the NAACP’s response to Lewis: “In a special election, get-out-the-vote infrastructure simply does not exist.Voters who face challenges to political participation – be it financial, job scheduling, transportation, or other impediments – will be irreparably harmed by conducting the election at a time where that infrastructure does not exist.”

Weatherford added: “Tens of thousands of our service men and women overseas have received their ballots, and over one million absentee ballots have been mailed to Floridians.

Members, we intend to vigorously defend the integrity and validity of Floridians’ votes that have already been and will be cast in the upcoming election.”

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