Florida’s state legislative and congressional maps are drawn by the state legislature. Congressional maps are subject to a gubernatorial veto. Although the state legislature adopted state and congressional maps in early 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed the congressional map. This forced the legislature to return in a special session to adopt his map proposal.
This cycle, the redistricting process in Florida was mired in challenges. The legislature was already secretive about maps even before the governor subverted the process and forced adoption of a map drawn with no public input. The enacted congressional map is currently subject to both state and federal court challenges, with the state case challenging the map as a violation of the Fair Districts Amendment of the Florida Constitution and the federal case challenging the plan as a violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
A survey respondent emphasized that the “Fair Districts Amendments were not adhered to.” The federal case, Common Cause v. Byrd, highlighted that the Governor “bullied the Florida Legislature into adopting [the] congressional map” that discriminated against Black Floridians by breaking up Black communities across the Panhandle.
Community of Interest Story
Prior to the current enacted map, Florida’s 5th congressional district in Northern Florida was a critical district for Black Floridians, encompassing one of the largest and historic Black communities in the state. During this cycle while the state legislature was drawing the congressional map, they made efforts to comply with the state’s constitution and the Fair Districts Amendment by preserving this Black opportunity district across the northern part of the state, efforts that drew opposition from the governor.
Upon the first passage of a congressional map, the governor quickly vetoed the state legislature’s plan precisely because it did provide for some opportunity for Black representation. The legislature soon surrendered to the governor’s demands to break up this Black opportunity district, passing the governor’s proposed map that was created with the intent to destroy this historically performing Black district.
By doing so, Florida has enacted a congressional plan that was adopted for the purpose of disadvantaging Black voters, despite the opposition from organizations in the state and the communities in the region. The governor’s plan “cracked” the Black population in Northern Florida, breaking these communities up into new congressional districts with far larger white voting-age populations. This map is now subject to litigation in both state and federal court
Overall State Grade: F
“They failed to be transparent… our legislature essentially allowed our governor to take over this process. So the redistricting process did not result [in] the best for Floridians; it was a political game.” – Moné Holder, Florida Rising
Limited public input: In accepting public input in the process, one community leader remarked that “they were awful. Historically… there were these listening sessions that happened. The Governor and his party… decided that they wouldn’t do any of that. So we were responsible for [it].” This cycle, the only possibility of public testimony came during legislative committee meetings in Tallahassee. Advocates reported that this made it difficult for people to come from as far as 500 miles away to provide testimony. In addition, due to the large number of participants and a limited public input period, most testimony was cut short. Advocates ultimately found that the testimony or public input provided to state legislators were not reflected in the final adopted maps.
Lack of public education: The state did not provide sufficient information for the public to understand the process and consequences of redistricting in Florida. Information was largely provided in only English, denying access to the diverse communities across the state. Additionally, the lack of public hearings across the state prevented the public from learning about the redistricting process and providing input regarding their communities.
Lack of transparency: Even the legislature’s gestures toward transparency, such as having limited hearings and an online mapping tool with limited functions, were rendered meaningless by the governor’s rejection of the legislatively drawn congressional map and call for a special session to implement a map that advocates have criticized. No opportunity for public engagement or input was provided for the congressional map presented at the special session. One community leader remarked, “it was unprecedented to have a Governor insert himself into the redistricting process the way Ron DeSantis did.”
- Build a robust coalition across the state: Advocates spoke positively of the statewide coalition that came together and was able to provide public input where possible, educate communities on the ground, and draw attention to the many problems that arose throughout this redistricting process.
- Advance efforts at the local level: While there was a coordinated effort at the state level to address state legislative and congressional redistricting, local redistricting advocacy was more region-specific and depended on the capacity of local organizations. Advocates reported some success in various parts of the state in moving the needle to more transparent processes and better maps, but that was not uniform.
- Begin the advocacy and education cycle earlier: All advocates recognized the need for continued engagement and education between redistricting cycles. This includes looking at how the most recent redistricting cycle impacts local communities now, as well as starting the actual public education and coalition-building work earlier to be ready when the state begins its processes. One advocate said, “We don’t want to have to always start from scratch in our advocacy and our engagement.”
- Train on mapping and communities of interest: While there was no unified mapping software used this cycle by advocates, some organizations used various tools to draw draft maps. They suggest that training on redistricting mapping tools happen earlier so communities are ready to provide input when the time comes. Additionally, training on what defines a community of interest should be ongoing between redistricting cycles so people are prepared when community of interest or draft maps are needed.
- Focus on the census: Some advocates pointed to the need to devote resources and begin this work around the census count and not wait until redistricting happens. This will help to ensure that communities are properly counted and provide momentum for more effective redistricting efforts.