Interactive hypothetical nonpartisan Florida congressional districts
Full-screen version • District summary stats
Drawn by: Republican governor and legislature
Delegation: 10 Democrats, 17 Republicans
2012 Vote: Obama 50, Romney 49
Florida's congressional map was struck down by the state Supreme Court earlier this month for violating the Fair Districts Amendment enacted via ballot initiative in 2010. These standards precluded legislators from drawing districts with partisan intent or to protect incumbents, but the court found that the GOP-led legislature flagrantly disregarded them when constructing the state's congressional districts. Consequently, the legislature has been ordered to redraw them subject to final judicial approval over the next two months.
With the current districts invalidated, what might a replacement look like? Given the intricacies of redistricting such a large state and the competing interests of a partisan legislature and supposedly neutral court, there are many possible outcomes. Undoubtedly, Florida Republicans will attempt to more subtly preserve their partisan advantage while the left-leaning majority on court will strive to uphold the Fair Districts standards.
The above interactive map shows what a hypothetical nonpartisan map in compliance with the state court decision might look like. Unless the court completely takes over the process later this fall and redraws the entire map, an outcome like this is unlikely. However, it is still a worthy reference point in judging the bias and adequacy of the final map.
Head below the fold to see more about potential maps and the specific issues at stake in the current redistricting saga.
In striking down the enacted districts, the main focus was over the majority-minority 5th District. Republicans drew this seat to pack black voters from Jacksonville to Orlando into a single, overwhelmingly Democratic district. This allowed them to draw adjacent white-majority districts that favored Republicans. The court overwhelmingly rejected the validity of this district as a product of the Voting Rights Act and instead contended it was a partisan gerrymander.
While the district was not required under the VRA, the Fair Districts Amendment's retrogression clause prompted the court to order that the 5th be drawn from east to west in order for the black population to be adequately represented. While they did not mention a specific proportion, this effectively means that the district must remain over 40 percent black and majority minority to comply with the spirit of the court's ruling. The result is that instead of utilizing Orlando and Gainesville, the district must incorporate parts of Tallahassee alongside Jacksonville.
Consequently, reorienting the 5th from north-south to east-west causes the 2nd District to become overwhelmingly white and Republican, dooming Democratic incumbent Gwen Graham if she attempted to remain there. Republicans will want to ensure the defeat of Graham, the daughter of a popular former governor and senator, given her rising-star status among Democrats and her potential for a 2018 gubernatorial candidacy. Her best chance at re-election would be running against the polarizing Corrine Brown in the new 5th, but the racial demographics of the primary electorate will aid Brown, who is African-American.
Further to the south, the 6th District becomes nearly evenly divided between both parties without solidly red St. Johns County. With an open seat in 2016, Democrats very well could compete here. Just north of Orlando the 7th District flips to Obama and gives him the same narrow margin he won by statewide. Republican Rep. John Mica is heavily entrenched, but at 72 years old he could easily retire in the next few cycles. Unfortunately, these two districts might remain securely Republican depending on the extent to which the court allows the legislature to shape the map.
However, despite losing Graham's seat in the north, Democrats should gain a new Democratic-leaning 10th District in Orlando. African-American former Orlando police chief Val Demings came close to winning the old version of this seat even as Romney was carrying it 53-46, and she seems likely to seek a rematch with Republican Rep. Dan Webster in the redrawn 10th.
While Republicans will aim to protect Webster as much as possible, the court will be particularly wary of any attempts to pack in the black Democrats the 5th loses into the Hispanic-heavy 9th District. As such, the 10th is likely to have the heavily black and Democratic parts of central Orlando that will make a Webster re-election unlikely. The above nonpartisan map makes that impossible given Obama's more than 20-point victory, but legislative Republicans won't allow that to happen.
Another critical part of the ruling was that the St. Petersburg-based 13th cannot avoid the heavily black part of central St. Petersburg currently attached to the Tampa-based 14th through water contiguity. That will increase Obama's share of the vote by about 4 points and has already prompted Republican incumbent Rep. David Jolly to run for Sen. Marco Rubio's open Senate seat rather than face a difficult re-election. Former Gov. Charlie Crist has all but announced that he's in and, due to his home-region popularity, he should be an intimidating pick for Team Blue. This seat should likely fall to Democrats with presidential turnout, though Republicans are hoping that popular ex-St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker will run and give them a fighting chance to hold on.
Elsewhere, the court ordered that the 21st and 22nd in southeast Florida could no longer divide Broward and Palm Beach counties east and west into long strips, but must be split north and south to become more compact blocks. However, both of these districts were already securely Democratic and any change is unlikely to have much partisan impact aside from making the 22nd modestly more Democratic.
Similarly in Miami-Dade County, the court ordered there be fewer municipal divisions of cities such as Homestead between the 26th and 27th, but Republicans have considerable ability to mitigate the impact. However, given the vulnerability of freshman Carlos Curbelo in his Democratic-trending Obama district, any little shift toward Democrats in his district could prove decisive in his 2016 re-election.
While southeast Florida should not change considerably to comply with the court ruling, Florida Republicans may yet attempt to cement their advantage there by correcting the redistricting mistakes they made in 2012, when they lost both the 18th and 26th. However it would be absurd for the court to accept such changes when they would be so blatantly pursued for partisan reasons by the legislature. Unfortunately though, they seem unlikely to fully reverse attempts to strengthen certain districts under the current map that were upheld in this month's decision, such as the 25th, which would become considerably more Democratic under the map presented above.
Full-screen version • District summary stats
While the court may still step in and draw the map itself, it has not yet done so. There is a chance the legislature may be allowed to get away with making these corrections while still advancing their partisan goals. The above map looks at how that might happen, with a particular emphasis on securing the Central Florida districts for Republicans, in addition to other gerrymandered districts that were not criticized by the court.
Rather than allowing the 6th District to become swingy, here it remains solidly Republican. Instead of becoming safely Democratic, Obama won the 10th District in Orlando by a little more than seven points. However, compared to the previous Romney win there, that is a considerable improvement. With the clear Democratic trend of the Orlando region, Democrats should be favored to defeat Rep. Webster there in 2016.
While Republicans might attempt to pack the excess Democrats from the 5th into the adjacent and heavily Democratic 9th to protect Webster, this would be obviously partisan. Furthermore, the nearly Hispanic-plurality 9th becoming diluted with extra African-Americans would invite a further racial discrimination challenge alleging the diminishment of minority voting power. It seems highly improbable that the court would allow these voters to be redistricting to any other seat than the 10th.
Republicans might be able to manipulate the lines of the 13th to make it slightly less Republican, but given the peninsular geography there, the impact is quite negligible. The new district clearly leans to Democrats, especially if open in 2016. Although a nonpartisan 26th further south might lean clearly toward Democrats, Republicans probably will succeed in minimizing any partisan impact there.
Ultimately, even with a Republican-favored map as presented above, Democrats would almost certainly gain one seat in redistricting if not more. While far from perfect, that would nonetheless represent a win. Furthermore, trading a Romney-voting 2nd District for an Obama-voting 10th District further aids the party even if the number of total Democrats remains the same between the two districts.
Commentators elsewhere have presented possibilities even more optimistic or pessimistic for Democrats than seen above. A possible map from the Cook Political Report's David Wasserman looks at an outcome even more biased toward Republicans than my second map. However, there are a few problems with his hypothetical map.
It is unlikely that the 5th district will contain all of Tallahassee since that makes the district whiter than one using more of Jacksonville. Furthermore, it increases the likelihood that Graham survives in the Democratic primary. Republicans will want to prevent this lest it allows her to further establish herself with voters and the Democratic base ahead of a possible 2018 gubernatorial run.
In Orlando, Wasserman's map combines the excess black voters from the 5th into the Hispanic-heavy 9th to create a Democratic vote sink. Not only should this appear transparently partisan to the court, it also diminishes the ability of both minority groups to elect their preferred candidate and would seem to be a clear violation of the relevant Fair Districts criteria on maintaining minority voting strength.
Wasserman's map also uses the redistricting opportunity to strengthen the 18th and 26th at the expense of the 8th and 25th, respectively, for the Republicans after they unnecessarily lost them in 2012. This too comes off as openly partisan and since the court only intended a minor redrawing of the lines in the 26th while intending no such changes in the 18th, it seems unlikely they would allow such an opportunistic change to these districts. Furthermore, 25th District Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart opportunistically switched districts mid-decade in 2010 to a safe district and he would have incentive to prevent his Democratic-trending district from weakening.
Over the next two months many questions remain about the eventual Florida remap. The most important one concerns the degree to which the court allows Republicans to carry out their legislative will and how heavily the issue of partisan intent will weigh upon the legislature's subsequent claims. For now we should assume two things: Democrats will lose the 2nd District, but the 10th and 13th Districts will become several points bluer and should likely elect Democrats in 2016. Until the court considers the legislature's response though, we will have to wait and see.