The imprecise science: Will districts help or hurt Hispanic representation in Florida?

Published Sept. 26, 2015

Armed with data, charts and expert opinions, lawyers in the trial over Florida's congressional districts sparred Friday over whether proposed maps before the court would elect or suppress Hispanic voters in Miami Dade County.

On center stage in circuit court in Leon County was Dario Moreno, the longtime professor of political science at Florida International University, and a national expert on the dynamics of the Hispanic vote in South Florida.

Hired by the Florida Legislature to be an expert witness in defense of every GOP-drawn redistricting map since 1994, Moreno testified that the alternatives offered up by the challengers would "pack Hispanics" into District 25 held by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart to create favorable neighboring districts for Democrats. Those districts, 26 and 27 are now held by Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

On the second day of a three-day redistricting hearing over the future of Florida's 27 congressional districts, the issue revolves around whether any of the seven proposed maps before Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis would reduce access for Hispanic voters, a violation of the minority protections in the Fair District amendments to the state constitution. The GOP-led legislature has proposed three maps and League of Women Voters, Common Cause and Democrat-leaning plaintiffs in the case have proposed four maps.

At the heart of Moreno's analysis is the theory that Hispanic Democrats are "not turning out to vote in primaries" while black voters in the proposed districts do, thereby creating a situation that would "lock out Hispanics" from choosing a candidate of their choice.

Speculation that Hispanics will join with blacks to elect a candidate in Miami Dade is unrealistic, Moreno said, because "Miami-Dade County has no history of coalition voting between African-Americans and Hispanics."

As a result, he concludes, based on the number of registered Hispanic voters in each of the proposed districts, compared to the number of registered non-Hispanic whites and registered black voters, the Hispanics will be edged out of electing an Hispanic in a primary.

Moreno was hired to analyze the House map and the four maps drawn by challengers. He testified that he has been paid $63,000 by the Republican Party of Florida to do consulting work this election cycle, in addition to the money paid to him since 2012 by the Florida House as its redistricting expert. Totals for that contract were not immediately available.

Moreno's conclusion: the House's map is the best.

He told the court the plaintiffs' four maps all "significantly weaken Hispanic districts'' because they have "significantly fewer Hispanic Democrats" than in the Legislature's three proposed maps, making the Democratic primary "a formidable obstacle for any Hispanic candidate."

"If the district is a lock for the Democrats,'' Moreno suggested, "the Democratic Party loses its incentive to recruit Hispanic candidates because any candidate will prevail. Then you don't have to worry who you nominate."