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A new map signed into law last week by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will eliminate two Black-led congressional districts in Florida.
On the chopping block: Florida’s 5th Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Al Lawson, which connects Black communities from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. Under the new map, Jacksonville, the city with the largest Black population in the state, is divided into two Republican-leaning districts.
Also skewered: the 10th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Val Demings, a Black Democrat. The new map reduces Black voters in the Orlando-area district. Demings is currently running for the US Senate.
The map is expected to expand Republicans’ current 16-11 seat advantage in congressional districts to as many as 20 out of 28 districts – and possibly help Republicans flip control of the US House of Representatives this November.
Many Democrats and voting rights advocates denounced the move and even attempted to stop the passage of the new maps with a protest on the state House floor.
State Rep. Angie Nixon, one of the Democrats who protested loudly on the House floor, has called the map “an attack on democracy” and DeSantis “a bully.”
She told Politico that Republican leaders were “willing to lie, cheat and steal to maintain their stranglehold of power on the state of Florida.”
The map was pushed by DeSantis himself. The GOP governor and likely 2024 presidential contender bucked tradition this year by injecting himself into the decennial redistricting process.
He first created his own map earlier this year. The governor then vetoed a previous version passed by the GOP-led legislature that maintained the current level of Black districts. DeSantis argued that the current congressional districts were racially gerrymandered and has suggested they are unconstitutional.
The map he signed into law this past week, he says, is “race neutral.”
Voting rights groups challenge map
Less than 24 hours after the GOP-supported maps were passed, the first legal challenge was filed. The lawsuit was filed by a coalition of civil rights groups, including Black Voters Matter and the League of Women Voters of Florida.
The lawsuit argues that the new maps violate a 2010 state constitutional amendment, Fair Districts, that requires lawmakers to give minority communities an opportunity to “elect representatives of their choice.”
The move in Florida comes against the backdrop of growing political power for people of color – and fears that redistricting maneuvers will muffle their voices.
When the current session of Congress convened in January 2021, it set a high watermark for minority representation: Nearly one-quarter of voting members of the US House and Senate of the 117th Congress were racial or ethnic minorities, according to the Pew Research Center. A record 59 lawmakers were African American.
Democrats made up 83% of the members of color, while 17% of the non-White members were Republican.
Election force bill signed into law
The new map is just one of the attention-getting laws enacted in Florida in recent days.
On Monday, DeSantis signed a sweeping voting law that establishes a new elections police force – making Florida one of the first states in the country with a unit focused on election fraud, an exceedingly rare problem that has become a rallying issue for some GOP voters.
Voting rights groups have raised alarms that an election police unit under the purview of a partisan governor could turn into a political weapon.
During a news conference, DeSantis said local election supervisors and prosecutors don’t necessarily have the expertise to investigate voting-related complaints and the new officers will.
“We just want to make sure whatever laws are on the books that those laws are enforced,” the governor added.
JFK group profiles courage
In an earlier newsletter, we highlighted the legislative maneuvers of Arizona state Rep. Rusty Bowers. The Arizona House Speaker is perhaps best known in the state for not caving under pressure from Donald Trump’s allies to somehow overturn the former President’s 2020 loss in the state.
Now, the Mesa-area Republican is a recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award – one of five people recognized by the late President’s library foundation for defending democracy at home and abroad.
The foundation’s honorees also include another little-known figure, whose life was disrupted for simply doing her job: Fulton County, Georgia, election worker Wandrea “Shaye” Moss. She had become the target of false accusations that she had processed fraudulent ballots for President Joe Biden in the last presidential election.
She and Ruby Freeman – her mother who served as a temporary Fulton County election worker during the 2020 election – had faced racist taunts and death threats in the aftermath of those accusations.
(The women recently reached a settlement with One America News Network in their defamation suit against the outlet, according to a status report filed with the US District Court in Washington late last week. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.)
In its praise for Moss, the JFK foundation said that: “Despite the onslaught of random, undeserved, and malicious attacks, Moss continues to serve in the Fulton County Department of Registration & Elections doing the hard and unseen work to run our democracy.”
You should read
- The full rundown on all five Profiles in Courage recipients.
- This New York Times piece on why Democrats aren’t focusing on voting rights amid the high-stakes midterm battle, even as Republicans have made claims of election fraud central to their election messaging.
- This NPR story about Michigan Republicans selecting two candidates who deny the 2020 election results to serve as the state’s top election official and law enforcement chief.
- CNN’s midterm election calendar to keep abreast of the slew of primaries approaching in May. First up: Indiana and Ohio on May 3. The fierce Republican primary battle for an open GOP-held US Senate seat is the main event in next week’s primaries – and a recent Trump endorsement has scrambled the race.