Ron DeSantis wants to hijack Florida redistricting — and cut number of Black districts in half

Democratic lawmaker calls proposed map "unconstitutional" and a deliberate attempt to dilute Black representation

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published January 18, 2022 12:47PM (EST)

Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In an unprecedented move, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' office has submitted a congressional map for the state's redistricting process that seeks to cut the number of heavily Black districts in half.

The state legislature, led by Republicans in Florida, typically oversees the redistricting process. But over the weekend DeSantis became the first governor in modern history to submit a congressional map that drastically alters district boundaries, according to Florida Politics. Lawmakers don't have to accede to DeSantis' preferred map, but the governor holds veto power over any final redistricting plan. DeSantis' office told Politico that they have "legal concerns" with the proposed maps from the state legislature.

"Nobody has commanded that orchestra like DeSantis," one unnamed Republican congressman told Politico of the state legislature. "It would be a hell of a flex if he gets this map."

DeSantis' map would cut the number of predominantly Black congressional districts from four to two, while increasing the number of districts with majorities of 2020 Trump voters from 16 to 18. Ryan Newman, the governor's general counsel, submitted the map on Sunday night, shortly before DeSantis posted a tweet to "honor" Martin Luther King Jr.

"This map is not only unconstitutional, but it dilutes black representation in Florida," state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Black Democrat, told Politico. "To add insult to injury, the Governor submitted this map all while tweeting a quote 'honoring' Dr. King."

RELATED: Are Dems really "winning" redistricting — in the face of voter-restriction laws and GOP extremists?

DeSantis' map would effectively wipe out a Jacksonville-area district currently represented by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.

"People were contacting me from all over when the map came out," Lawson told Politico. "They were concerned about things like what it would do to places like Jacksonville's urban core, which is African American. It does not sit well with people. For nearly 30 years it has had minority representation."

Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 to ban partisan gerrymandering but that has not stopped Republican state lawmakers from carving out as many favorable districts as possible. The state Supreme Court threw out the Republican-drawn congressional map in 2015, implementing its own districts instead. Republican mapmakers in red states have largely sought to shore up their own seats rather than carve out new districts for themselves but DeSantis' plan appears to be an exception, and would give Republicans two more favorable seats than the plan drawn up by the state Senate. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project graded the state Senate proposal a "B," saying it only has a "slight Republican advantage."

DeSantis, who is widely perceived as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has sparked a minor feud with Donald Trump in recent days as the former president bristles over the governor's perceived rise in the party. Some Republicans have suggested that DeSantis' proposal came amid pressure from Trump supporters.

"I had a TON of people come up to me at the Trump Rally in ARIZONA asking about Florida Congressional Maps & if DeSantis was going to get involved," tweeted Christian Ziegler, the vice-chair of the Florida GOP. "24 hours later … Looks like we have an answer!"

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Newman defended the map, arguing that the governor's office has valid concerns about whether certain districts in the state Senate proposal would stand up in court.

"We have submitted an alternative proposal, which we can support, that adheres to federal and state requirements and addresses our legal concerns, while working to increase district compactness, minimize county splits where feasible, and protect minority voting populations," he told Florida Politics. "Because the Governor must approve any congressional map passed by the Legislature, we wanted to provide our proposal as soon as possible and in a transparent manner."

But some Democrats argued that the DeSantis map was a troll rather than a serious proposal.

"DeSantis wants to appear he's still the MAGA boy, so he's proposed a map that is purposely ridiculous — namely destroying minority seats," wrote Democratic redistricting consultant Matt Isbell, dismissing the plan as a "stunt."

The state Senate proposal appears to try to avoid another court fight over whether new districts comply with the 2010 amendment, but DeSantis' proposal could run afoul of the state's ban on partisan gerrymandering. Democratic attorney Marc Elias, who has challenged multiple Republican gerrymanders in court, threatened legal action in response to the proposal.

"I look forward to my team deposing [DeSantis] and his staff to fully understand the illegal partisan motivations of this map," he tweeted.

The proposal comes after DeSantis signed a sweeping set of new voting restrictions sparked by Trump's false claims of election fraud. Many of those new restrictions are likely to disproportionately impact voters of color. He has proposed additional voting changes and a new voter fraud investigation unit that would have a huge budget and more investigators than most police department homicide units, even though voter fraud is exceptionally rare and statistically meaningless.

Every Democrat in Florida's congressional delegation last week signed a letter penned by Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., who is running for Senate, calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate "partisan efforts at voter suppression" in the state.

"Proposed legislation would further criminalize standard 'get out the vote' practices, making it a criminal act to, for example, notify a homebound voter of his or her option to request a mail-in ballot," the letter says. "In addition, there is a shameful attempt to reduce the number of drop boxes, particularly in certain precincts, and finally, the imposition of new deadlines on election supervisors to 'clean voting rolls,' an all too familiar strategy to purge voters of color throughout the country."

Read more on the GOP's push to limit voting rights:

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

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Aggregation Florida Gerrymandering Politics Redistricting Republicans Ron Desantis