MONROE COUNTY – Residents of the Florida Keys and south Miami-Dade County will have a new state senator following November's elections. Elections will be held in all 40 State Senate districts this year as a constitutionally mandated redistricting and reapportionment process is carried out.
The Senate district that includes Monroe County is being split into two – new Districts 39 and 40 – as part of the state-wide reapportionment and redistricting that takes place every 10 years based on the latest census results as required by Florida's constitution, University of Florida Levin School of Law Staff Attorney Timothy McLendon told the Florida Record.
Monroe County will be part of the new District 39 come November. State Senator Dwight Bullard (D-Miami), who represents Monroe County, must run in the new District 40 according to the redistricting plan drawn up by state legislators.
Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Kendall), a first-term senator for District 37, will run for the Senate seat in the new District 39 that includes Monroe County -- home to some 467,000 residents. Two Democrats – Miami-Dade residents Andrew M. Korge and Daniel E. Horton – have filed papers to compete in their party's August 30 primary.
The decennial Congressional redistricting and reapportionment process was written into the state constitution with the aim of establishing districts with equal population so as to assure fairness in elections and representation in state government. The plans and resulting process of carrying them out typically brings forth legal challenges in local, state and federal courts, McLendon noted.
It's been no different this time around, with challenges having been adjudicated at the state and federal levels. In December 2015 the Florida Supreme Court voted 5-2 in approving a new state Congressional District map.
The Florida Constitution stipulates that the State Supreme Court conduct an expedited review of reapportionment plans produced by the state legislature in order to determine whether or not it complies with state constitutional standards, McLendon explained. That does not preclude legal challenges at both the state and federal levels, especially under the federal Voting Rights Act.
During its review process the Supreme Court for the fourth time rejected a challenge by state legislators. The map was drawn up by the League of Women's Voters, Common Cause of Florida and others and approved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis after state legislators could not agree on one during a special redistricting session.
What is different in the latest congressional redistricting and reapportionment plan – enacted in 2012 – is that a new amendment was added to the state constitution, McLendon explained. Voters approved the Fair Districts Amendment in the 2010 election.
The amendment's aim is to assure fairness in elections and representation in the state congress by assuring the population is divided as equally as possible among congressional districts while taking city, county and geographical boundaries into consideration.
In contrast to previous redistricting and reapportionment initiatives, the constitutional amendment prohibits state planners from considering or taking any actions that would serve to favor or disfavor incumbents.
"That was typically a consideration for legislators in the past," McLendon said.
What that means in practice is incredibly difficult to determine, however, he added. ¨You have huge population blocks in a small area in many districts, along with a variety of ethnic and demographic groups resident within them. That presents legislators with a tremendous challenge when it comes time to draw up and carry out new redistricting and reapportionment plans.
¨The process, and especially these late challenges, can overturn longtime districts and thus upset people’s understanding of which district they live in,” McLendon said.