Fla. Judge Orders Lawmakers Back To Work On A New Congressional Map

A Florida judge has ordered the state legislature to come back from recess for a special session. Lawmakers will be expected to draw up new maps for congressional districts found unconstitutional.

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In Florida, a new ruling may throw off the schedule for upcoming congressional elections. Today a circuit judge ordered Florida's legislature to submit new maps for two congressional districts. The judge says he may push back the November 4 election date for those districts and others affected by new boundary lines. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: For Deidre McNabb, the president of Florida's League of Women Voters, today's ruling is an unqualified victory.

DEIDRE MCNABB: We think this is a monumental decision by the judge.

ALLEN: To appreciate why it's such a big deal, first, the back story. Every 10 years following the census, Florida, like nearly all states, redraws maps for its congressional districts. In 2010 though, Florida voters passed constitutional amendments that changed the rules. The amendments attempt to take politics out of the redistricting process. They require the state legislature to draw maps for districts without regard to political parties or incumbents. In a ruling last month, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said political consultants quote, "made a mockery of the redistricting process - drawing maps intended to benefit the Republican Party." He said maps for Florida's 5th and 10th Congressional districts were unconstitutional. Now Republican leaders in the legislature and voting rights groups are debating what to do about it. Republican leaders say it's too late to draw up new maps, observe filing deadlines and hold primaries before the general election, set for November 4. The League of Women Voters and others challenging the maps have asked Judge Lewis to speed up the process or consider holding special elections in the affected districts. In a ruling today in Tallahassee, the judge said he agreed with Republican leaders that there is not enough time to impose new maps before November 4. Florida's primary is later this month. And some absentee ballots have already been cast. But Judge Lewis said he could postpone the November 4 election date for the effected Congressional races and hold special elections later. And he ordered Florida's legislature to submit new, constitutionally-drawn maps to him in two weeks. Republicans have said requiring new maps would, in effect, invalidate votes already cast by absentee ballot, including some sent in by military personnel overseas. But McNabb says there's a more important issue here.

MCNABB: Our fighting men and women overseas - they're putting their lives on the front line for democracy and liberty. And they, more than anybody, deserve the chance to cast their votes on districts that are valid and constitutional.

ALLEN: To meet the judge's deadline, Florida's legislature will have to return from its summer recess and convene a special session. That is unless Republican leaders decide to appeal. For now, they say, they're studying the decision. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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