House panel splits on first redistricting map; critics say Latinos and Blacks are underrepresented

By: - January 21, 2022 6:54 pm

Miranda Galindo, senior counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEP, testifies Thursday that plans for drawing new voting districts ignore dramatic growth since 2010 in Latino population. Screenshot: The Florida Channel

Florida Democrats and voting-rights organizations mounted strong opposition Friday to newly drafted legislative district boundaries that nevertheless passed 13-7 in a redistricting subcommittee of the House of Representatives.

The vote Friday split on partisan lines, with 13 Republicans voting yes and seven Democrats voting against the draft map.

Among the criticisms was testimony that growth in Latino, Black and other minority populations is not reflected in the proposed redistricting maps and that the public has had little say in helping draft them.

Rep. Kelly Skidmore, a Palm Beach County Democrat, said the subcommittee leaders and staff had failed to prove or disprove whether growth in the populations of Black and Latino residents should have resulted in creation of more districts where people of color have a fair chance at being elected.

“Given the growth in Black and Brown people, is it possible there could have been more access seats created to have … better representation of those populations?” Skidmore asked. “If you had done did a functional analysis of all the districts in the state, wouldn’t we have a better understanding if there was additional opportunities?”

Staff director Leta Kelly did not directly answer the questions but said the staff complied with requirements.

After two months of committee meetings, the draft map approved Friday was unveiled less than three days ago, giving legislators and the public little time to study it.

Rep. Dan Daley, the highest ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee on legislative redistricting, said, “There is still analysis that needs to be done and numbers that need to be reviewed and data that needs to be considered that hasn’t happened.”

As to public comments, in past redistricting cycles, public hearings were held across the state. This year, speakers must either travel to Tallahassee to give in-person testimony or submit comments through the official portal

Daley insisted that public input should have been solicited by remote electronic access around the state, to form a clear picture of how Florida voters want their new electoral districts to be drawn.

In public comments on Friday, the League of Women Voters of Florida and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, formerly known as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, testified that the map of state House districts unveiled by subcommittee leaders late Tuesday wrongly dilutes the voting power of Blacks and Latinos.

“The Florida legislative maps ignore dramatic Latino population growth over the last decade,” testified Miranda Galindo, senior counsel with LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Latino population growth requires more [districts], not the same and certainly not less.”

Galindo said on Friday the 2020 Census shows Florida added nearly 1.5 million Latino residents since 2010, making Latinos more than 26 percent of the total population, while the map approved Friday reduces their representation.

“All of the Florida House redistricting subcommittee plans fail to add any additional majority Latino districts despite substantial Latino population growth, Galindo said “[This map] actually reduces the number of Hispanic voting age population majority districts from 18 to 17.”

Further, she condemned legislators for failing to welcome and accommodate input from Floridians for whom English is not their primary language. She said the portal has many English-only components and few translation options.

In addition, she said lawmakers refused to enable remote public access in light of the COVID pandemic, despite requests from LatinoJustice other civil-rights organizations, and Democrats on the redistricting committees.

“Spanish-dominant Floridians deserve to have their voice heard in meaningful ways and participate in this redistricting process without English-only barriers,” Galindo testified. The Legislature should ensure that all notices, forms and other methods of communication “are fully accessible to limited-English-proficient Floridians, who have an equal right to participate in defining the political boundaries that will endure for the next decade.”

Similarly, League of Women Voters President Cecile Scoon, also an attorney, told the legislative redistricting subcommittee on Friday the League believes legislative leaders are complying with only the lowest of legal bars set to protect the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. She said legislators can and should use additional official information.

Scoon reiterated on Friday criticism she has lodged before that redistricting staff and leaders are not sharing data and analyses that may mandate greater minority representation than is reflected in draft maps.

“Citizens do not have enough information and I imagine representatives do not have enough information,” Scoon said Friday. “The gold standard is ‘racially polarized voting analysis,’ that is what is required, and that has not been done.”

Racially polarized voting analysis would reveal any shortcomings in minority representation, Scoon said.

“You need to show … that the minority voice has not been harmed or their opportunity to select a representative, or that there has been no retrogression [reduction in baseline minority districts]. Otherwise, you don’t know.”

Rep. Kristen Aston Arrington, Democrat from Osceola County, said, “We have talked about involving our constituents, and that is our job to do … But with two and a half days, we haven’t had a chance to review it, and as was noted, definitely our constituents in Florida have not had a chance to review it.

“I do find it really alarming that we were unable to get answers to Rep. [Kevin] Chambliss’ questions in regard to minority access seats, what the benchmark was, where we are now for Black and Hispanic seats, and what those increases are, because we should have increases with the population changes that we’ve had over the last 10 years,” Arrington said.

“Our charge was legally compliant maps, and we did it. I think it was a good public participation process. I think it’s a great work product. We accomplished our charge … a legally compliant map,” said Rep. Will Robinson, a Republican representing parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

The subcommittee advanced the draft plan to consideration by the House committee on redistricting, where it will be considered before a draft map moves to the full House.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.