The Phoenix Flyer

House Democrat on redistricting: ‘I’m certain there’s going to be lawsuits’

By: - October 11, 2021 1:24 pm

Evan Jenne, a Broward County Democrat, in floor debate in this undated photo. Credit: Florida House

A leading legislative Democrat warned Monday that redrawing boundaries for state House, Senate, and congressional districts could drag out for years, if history is any guide.

During a Zoom call with reporters, Evan Jenne, a co-leader of his party’s caucus from Broward County, noted that legal challenges to the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census dragged out until 2016.

Meanwhile, Republicans who ran redistricting then, and still do, benefited from boundaries the courts concluded unfairly advantaged them.

“The Legislature has proved it know how to muck things up enough that it can drag on in a court case for years and years and years, and redistricting is no different. I’m certain there’s going to be lawsuits. I’m certain that there’s going to a lot of unhappy legislators,” Jenne said.

“But my main concern right now is public input — that we draw these maps correctly and constitutionally, both in terms of making sure we have appropriate minority access seating and that we adhere to the Fair Districts Amendments in our own state Constitution,” he said.

The amendments to which Jenne referred won voter approval in 2010 and are intended to block the Legislature from designing districts to benefit any political party or incumbent.

“It’s going to be a long, drawn-out process no matter what. And, given how the last one went, I think some form of a repeat could be on the horizon,” he continued.

“But, look, the ball is clearly in the hands of my friends on the other side of the aisle, and it’s going to be up to them to decide if they want to play this thing straight of if they want to get a little wonky with how those lines run throughout the state.”

Republicans in control of the House and Senate are only now beginning work to align district boundaries to reflect the 2020 Census.

Democratic members haven’t had detailed talks about the process yet, Jenne said.

He conceded they will have to rely on “self-policing” by the Republican majority to keep their promises of transparency. He wasn’t optimistic.

“In terms of transparency, that’s a joke. Unless the Sunshine Law says you have to have something out in the open, I’ve learned that in this building people will keep it in the shadows as long as humanly possible.”

“That’s where the transparency is going to come from — when it’s force to be transparent due to a lawsuit.”

Menwhile, the Fair Districts Coalition Executive Committee, comprising groups including the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida, released a letter to legislative leaders on Monday noting “an environment of distrust” surrounding the process.

The group suggested changing state law to require House and Senate members to retain all records and notes pertaining to redistricting. Leaders have suggested doing so, but that doesn’t carry the force of law, the letter said, and destruction of such evidence featured in lawsuits arising from the last redistricting.

The group also asked for alternatives for public comment for residents unable to travel to Tallahassee for committee hearings.

“The Legislature has all of the technological tools it needs to provide virtual hearings with input opportunities for the public before maps are drawn, as well as in person opportunities where necessary to provide all Floridians access to meaningful input,” the letter says.

Correction: This story has been altered to reflect that Jenne is currently co-leader of the Democratic caucus in the House.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.