Florida legislative committees on Friday approved a proposal to make slight changes to seven congressional districts to comply with a court order.
Panels in both the House and Senate passed the new map altering the districts, which stretch from central to northeast Florida. A final vote in the full House and Senate on the new map is expected early next week.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled last month the original maps passed by legislators in 2012 was intended to benefit Republicans, in violation of a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2010.
The ruling specified that Congressional Districts 5 and 10 were invalid. Republican legislative leaders defended their new maps as the best way to comply with the court order without disturbing other districts throughout the state while obeying the federal Voting Rights Act's prohibition against undercutting minority districts.
"I think we did an excellent job. I'm very proud of it," said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. "(Judge Lewis) clearly said legally why we had to be here. We addressed all of his legal concerns."
But the League of Women Voters, which brought the lawsuit, contends that small changes to the map are not enough. The group takes particular issue with District 5, currently held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville — a skinny district running from Jacksonville to Orlando that was designed to produce a majority African-American district. The league prefers a district that runs west from Jacksonville to the heart of the Panhandle.
Members of the House committee voted down an alternative proposal from Democrats along party lines that would have made changes to only three districts, but that lessened the black voting age population in Brown's district from nearly 50 percent to 43.7 percent.
Lewis has given lawmakers until next Friday to adopt new districts. He will hold a hearing Aug. 20 to decide whether to conduct a special election after the Nov. 4 general election in districts affected by the changes in the new map. The Republicans argue that any changes should take effect in 2016.
According to the Florida Department of State, 284,673 absentee ballots for the Aug. 26 primary election have already been cast statewide.