Issue #100: How DeSantis Gerrymandered North Florida Black Voters
An historic loss for Representation
Over the last several months, I have been analyzing the 2022 Florida elections - whether its looking at statewide turnout trends or individual districts. Before the election, this substack series was most heavily dedicated to following Florida’s redistricting process.
It is only fitting then, that Issue #100 of this newsletter covers the effects of redistricting in North Florida; an event that led to an unprecedented backslide in Congressional representation for Florida’s black voters.
If you have been following me for some time, you knew this post was coming, and likely already know this backstory. For those who don’t, I want to provide some critical links and notes. We are talking history from the 1980s redistricting to the 2021-2022 DeSantis v Legislature fights. I cannot possible recap it all here in short order. Here, however, it a quick and clear breakdown of events before 2021. A series of several articles, topping over 30,000 words, can be found here, which cover the redistricting history of Florida. Below is just a timeline
1980s Redistricting was an era of white Democrats cracking black voters to ensure they had more seats to win in. No minority-access Congressional seats were formed
1992 Redistricting under the VRA leads to creation of 3 black-access districts, two in Florida, one in North Florida. It also leads to two Hispanic-majority districts drawn in Miami-Dade. The original North Florida seat is struck down by a court and new one drawn in 1996. The original North Florida seat (CD3 then) was a sprawling spider-web mess. Courts ruled that district lines could not be drawn just on race and no other factors. In other words, you cant follow just a highway to connect different racial groups. The 1996 redraw saw a more compact version of CD3. The district would later be renumbered to CD5.
2002 Republicans control redistricting for the first time, and gerrymander massively where they can. They maintain the 3 black-performing seats, and use packing to make the North Florida seat (which at the time goes from Jacksonville to Orlando) a democratic vote-sink. A third Hispanic-majority seat is also drawn.
2010 Florida Voters Pass the Fair Districts Amendments, which mandate protecting minority voters, bans political gerrymandering, and mandates compactness - but not at expense of minority representation. Republicans fight the law. The Black community is divided, not wanting to be packed as part of GOP efforts, but not wanting to lose any districts to cracking either.
First maps drawn for 2012, which includes several critical court caces setting up Florida redistricting precedent. Maps are less gerrymandered thanks to Fair Districts, but still have issues. Court reviews of maps and the fair districts lawsuit set up several important rules for the process.
2015 Florida Supreme Court strikes down Congressional map after a lawsuit reveals legislators working behind the scenes to gerrymander maps. The North Florida 5th, the area’s black-access seat, is redrawn to go east-west and not North-south. A a result, four black-performing seats now exist; with a new seat being drawn in Orlando that is majority-black in a Democratic primary.
You can read a full history of North Florida redistricting here.
This history set the stage or how the 2021 to 2022 redistricting process would play out. Heading into the process, many online conservatives believed that Florida would radically gerrymander its maps. The Florida Supreme Court, a former last bastion of liberalism in the state, had become conservative since the 2015 strike-down. The idea from conservatives was - “sure all these rules exist, but the court will side with us now.” I posited that while the legislature could very well push the envelope with some areas, they wouldn’t risk triggering major race-based lawsuits by targeting districts like the Florida 5th. The 2015 redistricting had led to a map that held 4 black-performing districts, and Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments stipulated that ending this process was illegal retrogression.
The 5th district was often cited by Conservatives as not being properly compact. I, and many others, argued the 5th was its most compact form in history. The district kept several rural counties whole and followed a tract of African-American voters that covered the North Florida region. Many of these voters trace their roots to the old plantations of the region.
The 2016 elections saw Tallahassee politician Al Lawson knock out longtime Jacksonville Congresswoman Corrine Brown. Lawson held the district through 2020. The district constantly performed as a black access seat while not being a majority black district. It is again important to highlight that from Florida’s redistricting law and court precedent, a district does NOT need to majority-minority to be protected under Florida law. The courts AND legislature routinely sited “functional analysis” as a means to determine if a district is minority performing. This can include….
Looking at the racial makeup of a primary and general
Looking at election history to see if minority voters make up a cohesive voting block
For districts heavily dominated by one party, what is the racial makeup of said primary?
This analysis is used for several legislative districts right now. The 5th district was ruled a black-access seat because it was overwhelmingly Democratic and its Democratic primary was well over 60% black. As 2021 redistricting began, this very fact was sited by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
So heading into redistricting, the Republican lawmakers clearly did not want to trigger any major court fights. Even a win in the courts would lead to depositions, trials, and a massive headache for the lawmakers. If you go to my archives for this substack, you can track redistricting almost week by week. I wont cite every article here, but these are some important highlights. Again, these do not cover everything I wrote.
First Congressional Maps released from State Senate, all keep 5th intact (Article)
House releases its Congressional maps. They are more gerrymandered, but all leave the Florida 5th intact. (Article)
DeSantis releases his first maps, an extreme gerrymander that cracks the Florida 5th and packs Democrats elsewhere. Initially believed to just be a map aiming at appeasing online conservative. Lawmakers are taken aback. (Article)
Florida House offers a Duval-only 5th district (nominally black-access) as a compromise. DeSantis admin argued the 5th wasn’t protected and was too long (despite other seats having a longer drive time). Duval only seat gave black voters a shot, but not the secure control of a seat the east-west 5th had. (Article)
Senate agrees with House proposal, passed map with Duval only 5th (and a backup with the original 5th). Senate had initially passed a plan that kept the east-west 5th intact. Legislature does not want a clash with DeSantis, who is doubling down on his critique, but don’t want lawsuits either. (Article)
DeSantis Vetoes the Congressional plan after several weeks of delay. Believed that a deal was worked out behind the scenes. The veto means a special election on redistricting. (Article)
Legislature agrees with new DeSantis plan, which ends gives North Florida black voters no district and adopts legislature proposal in other area. This map would ultimately become law. (Article)
In the end, Florida ended up with a Congressional map that gave Donald Trump 20 districts to Biden’s 8. It was a truly horrid gerrymander, with the Florida 5th destruction just on part of that. I covered the districts in detail in May of 2022, so click here for more details on the plan pre-2022.
The Congressional plan was actually struck down by judge in May of 2022! The findings where what we all new, the North Florida portion of the maps were a racial gerrymander that cracked black voters. I wrote about that here. As a tragically predicted in the article, I expected the higher courts would stay the ruling with the elections so close. This did happen, but lawsuits are ongoing. This issue is not out of the court-room, it is just going through the usual and slow pace this stuff does.
The Maps in Question
For this post, I want to look at 3 maps and how they did or would have performed in 2022. First is the map actually passed by the legislature and drawn by Ron DeSantis. This plan saw the same 20-8 split for the US Senate race as existed for President. For Governor, DeSantis narrowly edged Crist in the 9th and 23rd as well.
Due to the maps already extreme GOP lean, little changed from 2020. Rubio did 13 points better than Trump and picked up no additional districts. DeSantis picked up 2 more, narrowly.
What if the legislative compromise, with a Duval-only 5th, had been passed? Due to the 2022 landslides, this map would also be very red (but potentially more blue in other cycles). Critically for this post, the 5th would be narrowly Demings, and narrowly DeSantis. This would have been the black-opportunity seat.
If the Senate’s initial proposal had become law, the Florida 5th would have been more Democratic, with little doubt the winner of the majority-black democratic primary would win.
I delved into the long-term effects of the map passed in my 2022 Congressional results post. This important items here are how the North Florida area would have voted.
Lets say the legislative compromise had passed, with the Duval-only 5th. The issue with this plan was that the seat would not be more consistently performing the way the east-west 5th was. This would, however, be better than nothing. A Democratic primary here would give African-Americans control, and in the general the district would normally be Democratic. It would have backed Biden by 12%, only getting close due to the 2022 landslide and turnout collapse.
Since the district is narrowly Demings and DeSantis, we can compare it to CD9 and CD23, which I have written about in previous post. Both of those Demings/DeSantis seats still elected Democrats to Congress. Crist, overwhelmed by money, performed well below several Congressional Democrats. It is very likely a Duval-5th would have elected the winner of a Democratic primary; which would have been controlled by black voters. While I am adamant that the east-west configuration is best, this would have at least given Jacksonville’s black voters a real say.
A east-west 5th would have been more consistently Democratic, even in a bad cycle. The Senate-passed 5th would have been over 60% black in the democratic primary and would have easily remained blue.
Had this district held, Lawson and a Jacksonville Democrat would have likely battled it out in the primary, as previous cycles showed. It would have given the black voters that dot the North Florida region a voice.
The Final 2nd District
When the final Congressional map became law, Congressman Lawson had a choice, run for re-election, or retire. Lawson was going to be running against fellow Congressman Neil Dunn in a seat that backed Trump by 11 points.
Rather than run from a fight, Lawson opted to run for re-election. He was always an underdog and had little financial help. I’m not saying the seat was winnable, but Lawson getting aid could have helped generate higher turnout for black voters.
The district would swing further to the right thanks to the GOP landslide. In the Governor race, DeSantis got 61.6%, two points higher than Rubio’s 59.5%.
Lawson managed to narrowly overperform both Crist and Demings, but was ultimately defeated, only winning the traditional democratic areas.
Lawson overperformed Crist across the board in the district, with some of his strongest gains in rural white areas he used to represent in the legislature; namely Liberty County.
If you read my Electoral History of Al Lawson article, you will see how Lawson used to represent many of the rural, white, dixiecrat areas as far back as the 1980s. For some time, Lawson had cross-over appeal with many rural white voters. However, political polarization and generation change has led to an end for that. As reported, his campaign in 2022 saw many rural voters proclaim “switch parties and you have my support.” For some voters, personal and long-standing familiarity take a backseat to the vote for US House Speaker.
In the end, though, the results were set in stone the second the map was finalized. That map is still going through the courts as of now. What DeSantis’ admin and the legislature will need to answer for is the loss of 30 years of black voters being represented in North Florida.
A court room showdown is coming - and I will be watching and writing.