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Politics

Supervisors OK'd to Use New Maps as Feds Uphold Congressional Lines

April 29, 2012 - 6:00pm

A Leon County judge rejected a move to block the Legislatures new congressional lines on Monday as the U.S. Department of Justice cleared the new map under the federal Voting Rights Act.

As the rulings came out Monday, following up on the state Supreme Court giving the stamp of approval to the new Senate boundary lines under the once-a-decade redistricting, state leaders told county election supervisors to begin using the new maps.

This concludes the mandatory legal reviews of new districts and allows them to be implemented, Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, wrote to the states 67 supervisors of elections on Monday.

Supervisors have been holding off on updating voter information cards with the new district numbers because the new maps were still being reviewed.

On Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote that the attorney general does not interpose any objection to the specified changes in the state Legislatures once-a-decade redistricting effort.

Several hours later, Leon County Judge Terry Lewis rejected a call from the Democratic Party of Florida and a coalition of voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, for an injunction to prevent the new congressional map from being used while the lines continue to be challenged for failing to follow the vote-approved, anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments.

Without a finding that the map as drawn is unconstitutional, I do not have the authority to replace it with another map while the case is pending," Lewis wrote.

Representatives for the Florida Democratic Party were not immediately available for comment.

The groups contend legislators failed to properly follow the 2010 voter-approved Fair Districts Amendments 5 and 6 that were designed to combat gerrymandering by requiring district lines to follow natural boundaries along with municipal and county lines, and not to favor politicians or political parties.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice announcement, on the heels of the state Supreme Courts approval of the Senates second attempt to draw its own lines on Friday, was the final regulatory step for the maps.

The court approved the new state House map on March 9.

Qualifying for state legislative and congressional seats runs from noon, June 4 to noon, June 8.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, added that Floridians should feel confident knowing their county election officials have plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming elections.

Florida leaders are hailing the federal decision to grant Floridas request for administrative preclearance of the state Senate, House and congressional redistricting plans under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as thefinal hurdle for the new lines, which includes the addition of two new congressional districts.

Todays ruling by the Department of Justice is great news for all Floridians, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, stated in a release.

The preclearance was requested as five counties with a history of discrimination involving minorities -- Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe -- are subject to the federal Voting Rights review.

Gaetz, who chaired the Senate Committee on Reapportionment, attributed the Department of Justice ruling to the open, transparent and inclusive redistricting process that we, as a legislative body, conducted; and to our commitment to protecting minorities ability to participate in the process and elect candidates of their choice.

Dan Krassner, executive director of the new state watchdog group Integrity Florida, on Monday called the Legislatures year-long redistricting efforts, with town hall meetings across the state last summer, the brightest spot on Floridas corruption-risk report card.

Clearly the Senate and House leadership care about being open and transparent, Krassner said.

That was a direct result of the passage of (Fair Districts Amendments) 5 and 6, added Ben Wilcox, a former chief of Common Cause Florida and a co-author of Integrity Floridas report on Enterprise Florida.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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