"Black votes are under attack": Experts say Ron DeSantis' new congressional map is "deeply racist"

Florida Democrats held an unprecedented sit-in to protest "unconstitutional" map that guts Black voting power

By Jake Johnson

Published April 22, 2022 10:50AM (EDT)

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

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Florida's Republican-controlled House voted along party lines Thursday to approve a congressional map drawn by the office of right-wing Gov. Ron DeSantis, a move that came after state Democrats staged a sit-in on the chamber's floor to condemn the redistricting plan as unconstitutional and racist.

The map, which cleared the state Senate on Wednesday, now heads to DeSantis' desk for his signature—a mere formality given that he preapproved the district lines at the behest of the state Legislature's Republican leaders, who ceded control of the process.

As the vote took place, Florida Democrats chanted that "Black votes are under attack," echoing experts' warnings that the map is "deeply racist." The New York Times reported Wednesday that the redistricting plan "would end the congressional career of [U.S.] Representative Al Lawson, a Black Democrat from Jacksonville, by carving up a district that stretches across North Florida to combine Black neighborhoods in Jacksonville and Tallahassee."

"It would also eliminate an Orlando district held by Representative Val Demings, a Democrat, and pack Black voters from two districts in Tampa and St. Petersburg into one, creating a second district certain to be won by a Republican," the Times noted.

The map, which heavily favors Republicans overall, is expected to face legal challenges.

The House vote Thursday was held after a group of Florida Democrats, led by Black lawmakers, disrupted debate on the congressional map by taking control of the floor and holding a sit-in and a prayer-in.

"We are here taking a stand to stop the attacks, stop the Black attacks," said state Rep. Angie Nixon (D-14), who helped lead the demonstration. "We need to ensure we adhere to fair districts. We need to ensure all Floridians have a voice... What they do to one of us they do to all of us."

The Miami Herald reported that "an hour into the protest, House officials appeared to have cut off the wifi as protesting lawmakers were posting live videos." The House sergeant-at-arms also removed an Associated Press photographer from the floor.

Following a brief recess, Republicans returned to the chamber and pushed through the map.

"This is not democracy," state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47) tweeted following the vote, warning that Republicans are "drunk on power and bullying anyone in their way into submission."

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, the Republican leaders of Florida's Legislature announced that they were "awaiting a communication from the governor's office with a map that he will support," effectively handing DeSantis the power to craft the state's congressional districts ahead of the crucial 2022 midterm elections.

The Republicans' move came after DeSantis vetoed a congressional map that state lawmakers approved last month, demanding more aggressive action targeting a pair of districts represented by Black Democrats.

At present, the Washington Post noted Wednesday, "Florida has 27 congressional districts, 16 of which are represented by Republicans and 11 by Democrats."

"Under the new map, which was proposed by DeSantis himself, Republicans would probably represent 20 districts while Democrats would represent eight," the newspaper added.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, the ACLU of Florida argued that "the governor's map is a blatant and illegal partisan gerrymander."

"These maps clearly sever Black communities across the state, manipulate the lines to favor the governor's party, and diminish minority voting ability in violation of the Fair Districts requirements—which were enshrined in the Florida Constitution by a supermajority of Floridians," the group added. "Leaders of the Florida House and Senate abdicated their responsibility to craft a fair, constitutional map and ceded its authority to a governor who is clearly not interested in respecting Fair Districts."


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