The redistricting challengers threw a wrench into the map-drawing plans of the Florida Legislature late Monday, delivering election data to them that adds new detail to the question of where to draw minority districts particularly in South Florida and Tampa Bay on the eve of the first state Senate vote on Tuesday.
In a letter to House and Senate redistricting committee chairmen, the lead lawyer for the coalition of voters groups said they had compiled the 2012 and 2014 primary election data for key counties that the state Senate's redistricting staff director told senators "would take months" to compile.
"It only took a few days for the Coalition to gather this data for the foregoing counties,'' wrote David King in a letter to Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano and House Redistricting Committee chairman Jose Oliva.
"That included significant time spent determining the methodology that the Legislature had used to compile its MyDistrictBuilder database."
The data is important to providing what is known as a "functional analysis" of the districts, the court-imposed test to determine whether a district can elect a minority candidate. The state's Fair District redistricting laws require that minority voting strength must be maintained when the Legislature reapportions the population and draws political boundaries every 10 years. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that it is not the number of minority voters in a district that matters, but how those voters perform in recent elections.
The new data, which includes primary data from the 2012 and 2014 elections for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties, could better reflect voter intensity in electing minority candidates in the districts that the GOP-led Legislature packed with minorities in an effort to guarantee the election of African American candidates and Hispanics, King argues.
""The 2010 data on which the Legislature continues to focus is now five years old. Having now seen the updated data, it is evident that recent changes in voting pattems make a significant difference, especially in areas with fast-changing demographics like South Florida,'' King wrote, noting that "the updated turnout numbers demonstrate an increase of nearly 6.5 percentage points in Hispanic turnout in the Democratic primary between 2010 and 20l2."
The Legislature is in the second of a three-week special session to revise the state Senate map, after it agreed to a settlement in July acknowledging that it violate the incumbent-protection provisions of the Fair District provisions of the state Constitution. The full Senate convenes Tuesday to take a preliminary vote and at least seven different maps have been filed.
The coalition, which includes the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals, challenged the state Senate map enacted in 2012 but the map remained in force for the 2012 and 2014 elections.
As the Legislature fought the challenge and defended its maps as constitutional, it nonetheless updated its redistricting software to include general election data for 2012 and 2014. However, it choose to leave out the primary data, arguing that the best measure is the number of black voters of voting age, not how they voted in a primary.
The issue is critical to whether or not to draw an African American district in Hillsborough County and how many Hispanic districts should be drawn in Miami Dade and Broward counties. Republicans argue that a Hillsborough district must cross Tampa Bay to pick up communities in South Pinellas, even though they are geographically district, in order to guarantee the election of a black senator. But, using the primary data including the data from 2012 when Barack Obama put an emphasis on increasing African American voter registration Democratic Sens. Oscar Braynon and Jeff Clemens argue that it is possible to draw a Hillsborough-only seat.
Using the existing software, Braynon and Clemens prepared maps that do not cross Tampa Bay but stretch into Manatee County to pick up enough African American voters. The new data suggests the district does not have to leave the county.
All of this could have a ripple effect on another incumbency issues facing senators: which of the two incumbent senators will be elected Senate president Sens. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, or Jack Latvala, R_Clearwater. Under the map to come before the Senate on Tuesday, Sen. Bill Galvano a Negron supporter proposes that the district cross the bay. The result dilutes the number of Democrats in the adjoining Pinellas district now held by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. If the Pinellas district is not split apart, the district could become too Democratic for Brandes and he could be forced to move to keep his seat. He is rumored to be considering moving into Latvala's Clearwater-based seat to the north.
King also suggested that the congressional redistricting map which the plaintiffs drew, which was rejected by the Legislature but approved by the court, show that Hispanic voting strength in Miami Dade grew 6.5 percentage points between 2010 and 2012.
Here's King's letter:
"Dear Chairman Galvano and Chairman Oliva,
"Thank you for your recent correspondence requesting that the Coalition provide feedback to the Legislature during this important special session. We have been closely following the session with intense interest. We were particularly interested and disappointed in the staffs rejection of Senators'calls for updated primary turnout data for the years 2012 and2014. After all, such data would be extremely useful - and perhaps even essential - in conducting functional analyses on minority districts. With such data it may be possible to draw minority districts that are more compliant with tier two or that can allow minority voters to elect a representative of their choice without crossing county lines.
We are pleased to be able to provide you with the primary voting data for 2012 and20l4 for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties - where it is needed most for determining how minority districts can be drawn to ensure compliance with both tier-one and tier-two criteria. By email to your counsel, we have provided a link to the updated primary data. When you confirm tha the data is correct, we hope you will add to the MyDistrictBuilder database.
"It only took a few days for the Coalition to gather this data for the foregoing counties. That included significant time spent determining the methodology that the Legislature had used to compile its MyDistrictBuilder database. The Legislature would likely be able to compile and produce updated data much more quickly. If the Legislature contends that it cannot compile such data for the entire state in a timely fashion, then it should at least do so for districts where a functional analysis is required.
"The 2010 data on which the Legislature continues to focus is now five years old. Having now seen the updated data, it is evident that recent changes in voting pattems make a significant difference, especially in areas with fast-changing demographics like South Florida. For example, in District 26 in Congressional Plan CP-1, the updated turnout numbers demonstrate an increase of nearly 6.5 percentage points in Hispanic turnout in the Democratic primary between 2010 and 20l2.
"Updated data could well have significant implications for the ability to create more tier-two compliant Senate districts or even additional minority opportunity districts. We are continuing to explore a possible alternative to the Legislature's base maps, and we believe it is important for the Legislature to use updated 2012 and2014 primary voter data, particularly with regard to minority districts. Failure of the Legislature to produce and rely on updated data for 2012 and 2014 elections could cause great concern as it could be seen as suggesting that the Legislature is intent on maintaining a misleading status quo despite significant changes in minority voter demographics.
"We continue to hope that the Legislature will do what it must to assure that its ultimate approach results in the most constitutionally compliant Senate map.
"Thank you for your consideration.
"With kindest regards,
"David B. King"