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Ron DeSantis Drew Florida An Extreme Gerrymander

Senior elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich breaks down how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed through his gerrymandered map of Florida.


TRANSCRIPT

The Everglades in Florida is home to all kinds of rare and dangerous species. The American alligator. The boa constrictor. And the deadliest creature of them all: the gerrymander!

When Florida started the process of redrawing its congressional districts after the 2020 census, the prospects for a fair map in the Sunshine State looked, well, bright. A map with only a mild Republican bias passed the state Senate on a bipartisan vote.

But then Gov. Ron DeSantis got involved. Rumor has it, DeSantis wants to run for president in 2024, and that means proving to the Republican base that he’s a tough, unflinching conservative warrior who will wipe the floor with Democrats at every turn.

So he made the extraordinary decision to propose his own congressional map — one that draws as few Democratic districts as possible. At first, the legislature just brushed him off and pushed ahead with its own map. But DeSantis threatened to veto it. So the legislature proposed a compromise between DeSantis’s map and its own. DeSantis still vetoed it. Finally, the legislature caved; in April, it announced it wouldn’t propose any more maps and would vote on whatever plan DeSantis wanted.

It was a huge political victory for DeSantis. Not only did he cement his status as the top dog in Florida politics, but he can also take credit for adding more new Republican seats to the House of Representatives than any other state.

The map that ended up passing is redder than I would be after three hours on Miami Beach. It contains 18 Republican-leaning seats, only eight Democratic-leaning seats and just two highly competitive seats. That’s four more Republican seats than under the old lines and six more seats than they would get under a perfectly fair map, according to one metric of measuring gerrymandering called the efficiency gap. By this measure, Florida’s new map is this close to being the worst gerrymander in the nation. If this were the Daytona 500, it would be a photo finish.

The most controversial change is the red-ification of Democratic Rep. Al Lawson’s district in North Florida. Under DeSantis’s map, this district, which was designed to elect Black voters’ candidate of choice, goes from plurality-Black to majority-white, leaving Black people in North Florida without a voice in Congress.

But in his zealousness to pound Democrats into sand, DeSantis may have flown too close to the sun. The same day that he signed this gerrymander into law, Democrats filed a lawsuit to get it thrown out in court. And they have a pretty good case: Even DeSantis’s own lawyer has admitted that the state constitution prohibits significantly decreasing the nonwhite population of a predominantly nonwhite district — which is exactly what DeSantis’s map does to the Black district in North Florida.

And that’s not the only part of the map that looks illegally gerrymandered. Around Tampa Bay, DeSantis actually made the blue 14th District cross over the water in order to take Democratic voters away from the 13th District, which is now redder as a result. Even some Republicans have privately told reporters that this contortion violates the state constitution. What makes them so sure? The Florida Supreme Court said so in 2015, striking down another congressional map that pulled the same trick.

So it seems like a slam dunk that the courts will throw this map out, right? Not necessarily. DeSantis is arguing that the Florida Constitution’s protections against gerrymandering actually violate the U.S. Constitution, which would take priority. And because all seven justices on the Florida Supreme Court were appointed by Republican governors — three by DeSantis himself — the court may very well agree and keep this gerrymander in place.

Florida, man.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Tony Chow is a video producer for FiveThirtyEight.

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