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Senate districts not fair, judge says

An Ocala judge has declared four state Senate districts, including the one that includes most of Citrus County, unconstitutional.

Circuit Judge Jack Singbush earlier this week agreed with two Marion County residents who filed suit against the state.

Their argument: The Legislature's redistricting plan divided Marion into four Senate districts and thus discriminated against the county's residents, according to the judge's order.

Districts 3, 7 14 and 20 include parts of Marion. The plaintiffs argued that the lack of a hometown senator has caused the county to lose out on its fair share of project funding, the order said.

The state is expected to appeal, and the Florida Supreme Court might receive the case for review, according to Charles Forman, a lawyer who is one of the plaintiffs.

This news is of interest in Citrus because District 3's combination of Marion and Citrus population increases the chances for a candidate from this part of the district to win the seat.

All of Citrus east of U.S. 19 is in District 3. The rest is in District 11.

The district includes all or part of 11 other counties west to Leon and north to Baker, but 56 percent of the registered voters live in Citrus or Marion, state legislative records showed.

That makeup inspired state Rep. Nancy Argenziano, who has strong support in both counties, to skip a re-election bid in the House and instead seek the Senate seat.

Argenziano, R-Crystal River, is set to face incumbent Sen. Richard Mitchell, D-Jasper, in the Nov. 5 general election.

The Legislature redrew the district boundaries for the state House, state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. The process happens every 10 years.

In doing so, the plaintiffs argued, the Legislature violated the state Constitution's equal-protection clause by dividing Marion residents so badly that they cannot hope for fair representation in the Senate.

Singbush, in his ruling, said the Legislature "completely and utterly" disenfranchised the county's residents.

The ruling might be struck down on appeal. If it is upheld, the courts could order the Legislature to refigure the Senate districts, said Forman, the plaintiff. Such refiguring might or might not affect Citrus.

On a practical level, the ongoing dispute worries Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill. She wants to mail voters new registration cards, since some will have new polling places, but she knows the boundaries for some of the legislative districts could change.

"I'm going to go forward with it," she said. "I'm just going to go with the premise that we're not going to be affected by this."