Florida’s congressional districts are already a problem. Too many voters of one political party or another are concentrated in awkwardly drawn districts. The gerrymandering leads to fewer competitive races, which undermines the democratic process. Unfortunately, it’s likely to get worse.
Traditionally, the state House and Senate draw the districts for Florida’s congressional races every 10 years. This year, the Legislature proposed a map with a couple more Republican-leaning districts than the current map, but that’s not unexpected when Republicans have strong majorities in the state House and Senate. But Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t like the Legislature’s plan. He vetoed it and touted his own map.
In Florida’s congressional delegation, Republicans currently have a 16 to 11 edge over Democrats. The state gets an additional district this year due to its population growth, bringing the total to 28. The governor’s map would further concentrate Democratic voters into fewer districts, favoring Republicans in 20 of the 28 districts. Democrats would win certain districts easily, but Republicans would win more.
The 20-8 spread is out of whack in a state that still remains fairly purple, at least in the aggregate. The majority of Florida’s voters have supported both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in recent cycles, including Barack Obama twice and Donald Trump twice. But neither Obama nor Trump ever won more than 51.3 percent of the vote.
Color shows how voters in precincts entirely or partially in each proposed district voted for president in 2020.
Times | LANGSTON TAYLOR
Source: FloridaRedistricting.gov, Times analysis of election results collected by the University of Florida and Wichita State University.
Florida has about 5.15 million registered Republicans, a little more than 5 million registered Democrats, and more than 4 million voters registered with no party affiliation or with a minor party. That doesn’t mean congressional elections should always produce about as many Republican and Democratic winners. But favoring Republicans in more than 70 percent of the districts in a state where Republicans make up less than 36 percent of registered voters strains even the most generous definition of fairness.
The governor’s map will continue the disturbing trend of forcing candidates to run for office in too many districts that are politically stacked with one party’s voters. The state won’t see as many competitive elections between Democrats and Republicans. Many of the races will essentially be over after the primary election. To win those primaries, more candidates will tilt toward the extreme ends of their party — the far left and the far right. They will only have to make arguments to their own party’s voters, not the large electorate. Moderate candidates often won’t stand a chance. Here’s where open primaries would make sense. They would allow any Floridian, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in a primary, which would help less extreme candidates to win in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.
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If Florida’s primaries remain closed — and there is no reason to think otherwise at the moment — DeSantis’ map will result in still more political polarization. The state and the country don’t need more members of Congress who refuse to ever compromise with the opposing party, at least partly out of fear of looking weak to their base when the next primary election comes along. Congress doesn’t need more fringe candidates who get elected and do nothing but sow discord and spew extreme talking points, knowing they never have to win the support of anyone outside of the extreme corners of their party.
Florida’s legislative leaders have already said they won’t draft or produce a map of their own for this week’s special session. DeSantis has said his map will pass legal muster, including the state’s constitutional requirement to create fair districts. One thing for sure: The map will be contested in court. But the legal wrangling will take months, if not years. In the meantime, Florida will be stuck with a congressional map that contributes to more unneeded political strife in Washington.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.