Voting groups, state agree to focus solely on Florida District 5 in congressional map lawsuit

Some voting groups said Florida’s fifth district was redrawn unconstitutionally
Florida redistricting faces pushback, sent to state Supreme Court
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 15, 2023 at 9:07 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV/Gray Florida Capital Bureau) - Congressional districts in north Florida could be redrawn before the next election. Voting rights groups and the state reached an agreement last week in a lawsuit challenging the current map.

A coalition of voting rights groups challenging Florida’s congressional maps claims it is unconstitutional. For years, Florida’s fifth congressional district has been a Black majority district, most recently connecting communities from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.

“Black voters will essentially have the chance to elect the candidate of their choice,” Equal Ground founder Jasmine Burney-Clark said.

That changed last year when the maps drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff were adopted by the Florida legislature. District 5 became centered in the Jacksonville area.

Equal Ground, a group that encourages Black communities to vote, is part of the coalition challenging Florida’s congressional maps. Burney-Clark said the district was originally supposed to give Black voters a voice. But, she says the new map unconstitutionally suppresses Black votes now.

“Allows for Floridians in the northern part of the state to elect the candidate of their choice, not the other way around where a candidate is given to them, " Burney-Clark said.

In the agreement reached last week, both sides agreed to focus exclusively on Florida’s fifth district. For Equal Ground and the other plaintiffs, that means agreeing to no longer challenge other reconfigured districts in the state that they previously raised concerns over.

Florida’s fifth district was represented by Democrat Al Lawson until this year. Under Florida law, congressional districts cannot be drawn to diminish minority voters’ ability to elect someone of their choice. Lawson lost re-election after the maps were implemented last year.

Voting groups in the lawsuit argue the most recent redistricting of the map led to Lawson’s loss by removing his voter base from the new map.

The state says in the lawsuit that the redistricting is necessary. It argues the majority-Black voter base in District 5 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bans race-based gerrymandering.

The agreement also requests the case be expedited to the Florida Supreme Court. Both sides need a decision to be issued by the end of the year for any potential changes to be approved by the legislature next year.

Lawson told the Gray Florida Capital Bureau he would consider running again if the map is redrawn.

The Florida Senate and House of Representatives declined to comment on the agreement, citing that the case is ongoing. The Secretary of State’s office did not respond to requests for comment from the Gray Florida Capital Bureau by the time this article was published.

This isn’t the only challenge to Florida’s new voting maps. There’s a separate redistricting lawsuit in federal court.