How Florida's New District Maps Could Give Democrats An Edge Republicans control the reins of power in Florida, but Democrats think the new maps will help them unseat some GOP incumbents both in Congress and in the state Legislature.

How Florida's New District Maps Could Give Democrats An Edge

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Courts in Florida have approved new maps for congressional districts and the State Senate. The maps are the result of efforts to eliminate gerrymandering. That's where districts are drawn to benefit one party or another. Florida is one of the states where this has been most rampant. NPR's Greg Allen reports the changes could mean a shift in the balance of power between Florida's Republicans and Democrats.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It was an unusual scene at Florida's capitol building in Tallahassee this week.

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JAY FERRIN: District One is now District Two. District Two is now District One.

ALLEN: To comply with a court order, legislative staffer Jay Ferrin used a computer program to assign new numbers to Florida's 40 State Senate districts. It's the latest in a series of moves that have reshaped politics in the sunshine state. Six years after voters approved constitutional amendments aimed at curbing gerrymandering, the courts say maps for Florida's congressional and state Senate states at last comply with the law.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: Florida was among the most effective gerrymanders for Republicans in the entire United States.

ALLEN: Michael McDonald is an associate professor at the University of Florida. Although Florida is a swing state, a state Barack Obama won twice, Republicans control the reins of power. Twenty of the state's 27 members of Congress are Republican. The GOP holds 26 of the 40 seats in the State Senate. Under the new maps, McDonald says those numbers are now likely to change slightly in Democrats' favor.

MCDONALD: We still have to have the final say of the election, so nothing's set in stone at this point. But expectations are that Democrats will probably win up to two, maybe three, seats out of Congress above where they are currently at. And they may win maybe three or four more seats out of the Senate.

ALLEN: A lot, of course, depends on the candidates and the campaigns they run. After seeing the map for his district, Republican Congressman David Jolly announced he won't seek reelection. Another Republican faced with a hard choice is Daniel Webster, the Orlando area congressman who gained attention when he ran for House speaker. His district has also been redrawn so it leans Democratic. The new maps were approved only after protracted legal battles and Republican opposition. One of the plaintiffs in the court cases was Florida's League of Women Voters. Pamela Goodman is president.

PAMELA GOODMAN: What has been occurring in Florida has been elected officials choosing their voters, drawing districts, choosing their voters instead of voters choosing their elected officials, which is the way it's supposed to work in our democracy.

ALLEN: Every 10 years after the census, all states are required to draw new congressional and legislative district maps. Under the law now in Florida, maps must be drawn without regard to politics, but the legislature controls the process. State Senator Jack Latvala, a Republican and political veteran, says this doesn't take politics out of redistricting.

JACK LATVALA: And it just shifted the playing field from Republican politics to Democrat politics, in my opinion. I've been involved in Florida politics for over 40 years, so I've seen a lot of this.

ALLEN: Because it's a presidential election year when voter turnout is highest, Democrats think the new maps will help them unseat some Republican incumbents both in Congress and in the state Legislature. But Latvala says Democrats who think they may regain a majority in Florida's Senate are wrong.

LATVALA: I think, you know, a one- or, at the most, two-seat pickup - I think that's a possibility, but it's not going to change control of Florida's Senate.

ALLEN: Other states besides Florida are also taking a look at how they conduct the politically charged once-every-decade redistricting prospects. North Dakota and possibly Illinois will have redistricting reform on the ballot in November. It's also being discussed in Ohio, New Jersey, Georgia and other states. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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