The Phoenix Flyer

FL House redistricting process draws fire from voting-rights groups, Dems

By: - January 10, 2022 5:58 pm

Broward-Dade Democratic Rep. Joe Geller, flanked at right by GOP Rep. Bob Rommel of Collier County, continues to want public input in the House redistricting process. Screenshot: The Florida Channel

Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives who control the process of drawing new congressional and legislative district boundaries are drawing fire from a voting-rights coalition and from top-ranking Democrats.

The two groups of critics say they have been given too little information to evaluate draft maps presented by committee staff last fall.

The 2022 Legislature convenes Tuesday for a two-month regular session, which will include adopting new district maps governing congressional and legislative elections for a decade.

The criticisms came Friday and Monday in separate letters to House Redistricting Committee Chairman Tom Leek, a Volusia County Republican.

The one Friday is from the highest-ranking Democrats on the committee and its two subcommittees. They are Rep. Joe Geller, of Broward and Dade counties, Rep. Kelly Skidmore, of Palm Beach County, and Rep. Dan Daley, of Broward County.

“Transparency and deliberation are paramount concerns in this process. This process cannot be rapid or opaque. We cannot allow our timeline to become artificially compressed,” Geller wrote Friday to Leek.

“As we move into the opening of regular session, we must take as much time as we need to fully understand these maps. It is not enough [that] we understand the top-level data inputs and the plan outputs — we need to understand the machinery that created these plans if we are going to make an informed, constitutional vote.”

Geller said all committee members and the public have questions that remain unanswered. His letter focuses on questions about the impact on minority voters of “workshop maps” drafted by committee staff under Chairman Leek’s direction.

In a letter Monday, the Fair Districts Coalition complained to Leek that it believes the “workshop maps” are not the maps that committee leaders intend to endorse as the “formal committee work product” – depriving the public of time to evaluate the latter.

“It is not lost on us that neither you, committee staff, nor subcommittee chairs have [ever] indicated that these maps are being seriously considered. Our examination of the various ‘workshop maps’ you have posted provides a glimmer of an understanding of why. The maps that you have drawn do not appear to comply with the FairDistricts Amendments or federal law in several ways,” says the letter, in part. The letter is attributed to the Fair Districts Coalition executive committee, which includes All On The Line Florida, Common Cause Florida, FairDistricts Now, Florida Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Rising, and Unidos US.

“From the start, our Coalition has requested opportunities for public input and participation both before draft maps are finalized and after they are voted out of committee. Of course, implicit in that request is that we are seeking meaningful opportunities to participate,” the letter continues. “This opportunity should come with a robust remote-appearance capability and should come at a time when maps that are being seriously considered are published and again after the committee has chosen maps and before they go to the floor.”

The House committees on legislative redistricting and on congressional redistricting will meet Tuesday, both of them at 4 p.m. despite pleas from the public to hold them at separate times so people may participate in both of them.

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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. Contact her at [email protected]