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Challengers in Florida gerrymandering case reject map revisions

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Plaintiffs in a lawsuit over gerrymandering in Florida's congressional districts on Monday asked a state judge to reject the Republican-controlled legislature's revised map.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis should also deny the state’s claim that special elections cannot be held this year in the redrawn districts, argued a coalition led by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause in court filings.

“The zero sum game is alive and well,” the plaintiffs said. “But this court need not and should not allow legislative defendants to play games with Floridians’ fundamental rights.”

The legislature approved minor changes to seven of Florida’s 27 congressional districts last week in a hastily convened special session.

Lewis has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday for arguments on whether to delay the fall elections in the affected congressional districts.

In July Lewis ruled the legislature's 2012 redistricting plan “made a mockery” of anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state's constitution. The judge ordered revised maps and asked state elections supervisors to provide a schedule for a possible special election.

Florida's secretary of state, a Republican, responded that March 2015 was the soonest a special primary election could be held, followed by a general election in May.

Republican legislative leaders have argued that the district changes should be delayed until after the fall elections, with early voting already under way in Florida's Aug. 26 primaries.

The plaintiffs asked Lewis not to postpone congressional elections into 2015, regardless of which map is adopted.

The districting changes largely focus on a snake-shaped tract held by U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, which packs in black voters as it winds between north Florida and Orlando in the central state.

Lewis found the boundaries were unconstitutional, along with those of a district held by Orlando-area Republican Daniel Webster that gained a cluster of conservative, white voters.

The map revisions proposed by the plaintiffs were far more sweeping than the legislature's plan, drawn up in private by Republican leaders.

“The ‘remedial’ map that emerged from the special session is exactly what one would expect from a legislative body that has resisted redistricting reform at every turn,” the plaintiffs said in their court filings. “It makes minimal changes to the initial plan, ensuring the least possible impact on political performance for the Republican Party.”

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