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Did DeSantis’ map deliver the U.S. House to Republicans? It’s complicated.

Florida sent 20 Republicans to Congress. But in a dominating cycle for Sunshine State Republicans, it’s not all chalked up to the maps.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd of supporters during a rally on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 in Sun City Center.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd of supporters during a rally on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 in Sun City Center. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 17|Updated Nov. 17

National Republicans’ goal of regaining full control of Congress in a sweeping red wave didn’t materialize on Election Day.

Democrats maintained control of the Senate, but Republicans won control of the House late Wednesday. The exact size of their majority is unclear, as some races are still having votes counted.

Four new members of the Republican majority came from Florida, where voters sent 20 Republicans to Congress, compared to 16 the cycle prior.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted what he called the “greatest Republican victory in the history of the state of Florida” up and down the ballot, including the congressional victories.

DeSantis’ office also played a significant role in how the congressional districts were crafted.

During the last legislative session, DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s proposed maps and instead sent lawmakers back to vote on a map drafted by his office that more aggressively favored Republicans. Watchdog groups filed a lawsuit arguing the map violated both the state Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, but the courts chose not to hear the case before the election. The lawsuit is ongoing, and the governor’s staff could be deposed.

The draft plan showed Republicans had the voting advantage in 20 out of Florida’s 28 seats — which is how the results came in on Election Day.

Some of the groups suing Florida over the redistricting process pointed to the election results as evidence of the unfairness of the redistricting plan, and said they will continue to push for maps that “do not favor one political party over the other, as the DeSantis map used this election cycle does.”

But pointing between Florida’s maps and the election results isn’t so simple. Here are two things to consider:

Related: Florida redistricting map: How will your new district look — and vote?

The battle over a North Florida district likely led to a Democratic loss…

Just weeks into the Legislature’s redistricting process, DeSantis made clear his displeasure at the configuration of a North Florida district held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.

Lawson’s district ran from Gadsden County to Duval, linking rural Black voters along Florida’s Panhandle.

Breaking from tradition, DeSantis’ office submitted a proposed map that dismantled the district and instead created districts that ran north-south instead of east-west. A DeSantis spokesperson in January said the old district was “an unconstitutional gerrymander.”

The Panhandle district, which included parts of Tallahassee and Jacksonville, was created in 2015 and validated by state courts.

Florida’s Fair Districts constitutional amendment prohibits the Legislature from drawing districts that reduce minority voting strength. But the districts proposed by DeSantis were accused of diluting that power.

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After a back-and-forth with the Legislature, the final districts for North Florida were similar to the initial draft from DeSantis’ office. Lawson ran in the new Congressional District 2, where he lost to his Republican opponent by 20 points.

Matt Isbell, a Democratic redistricting expert, said that had the district been kept intact, Florida Republicans would almost certainly have one less member of their delegation.

Even a different configuration of the district, passed by the House, would have likely given Democrats a competitive chance and kept Black communities in Jacksonville together, Isbell said. Isbell’s analysis showed that in that configuration, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who ran for Senate, and DeSantis, a Republican, would have taken the district.

Instead, the final district divided Jacksonville’s Black communities, Isbell said. Republicans won on both sides of the split.

Yurij Rudensky, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice, said that though a minority access district may look contorted, the idea of compactness is generally a proxy to make sure that communities are not split apart, and that in North Florida, Black voters in the Panhandle have a shared history of interest.

“The districts split various voters up and make it hard to mobilize people for campaigns to do effective outreach,” Rudensky said.

…but with low Democratic turnout, even competitive districts could have gone for Republicans.

Florida Republicans outpaced Democrats in turnout across most counties in Florida, leading to meager results for Democrats even in Florida’s heavily blue areas.

Related: Republicans dominated Florida elections. What happened to Democrats?

Isbell said that low performance means that even if districts were cut in a more competitive way, it’s probable they would have gone for Republicans.

The one district that likely would have gone for Democrats even in a difficult year would be the North Florida district that was eroded, Isbell said.

Other districts that previously leaned in favor of Democrats or were competitive were adjusted during redistricting in a way that gave Republicans a voting advantage, Isbell said, including districts in Tampa Bay and Central Florida. But he said even those seats would have likely gone for Republicans in the statewide sweep.

Still, unless courts throw out the boundaries and order new ones, it means many districts may not have the potential to flip over the next decade until the next redistricting cycle, Isbell said.

“Even if you forget about that landslide,” Isbell said. “It’s still a Republican-leaning district.”

Rudensky said the 2022 cycle is the first test of the maps, but not the last. Future elections with more competitive turnout will test the partisan fairness of the maps, he said.

“A good map is one that is responsive to a variety of different political environments, essentially,” Rudensky said. “When political winds shift and one party does better than the other, there should be corresponding changes of seats.”

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