Facing a looming electoral deadline, a judge said Thursday he was “extremely skeptical” he could delay elections this fall using Central Florida’s illegally drawn congressional maps. Instead, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he would make a decision by the end of next week on what to do now that he has found they unconstitutionally were drawn with partisan intent. Lewis ruled earlier this month that the Florida Legislature’s congressional map violated the 2010 anti-gerrymandering reforms voter passed, thanks to evidence presented at trial that a handful of GOP political operatives had gamed the system to get more favorable maps submitted to the Legislature. But now that ruling is running into the realities of the political calendar. With a primary slated for next month, thousands of absentee and overseas ballots already mailed, and a slate of candidates already lined up, lawyers for the Legislature and county election supervisors said unhinging that process now would cause chaos.
“We could have a new map tomorrow, and we still don’t have enough time for this election,” saidRaoul Cantero, a former Florida Supreme Court justice and lawyer for the Senate.
Lewis also said he was unclear he had the ability to draw a new map himself, or the legal power to re-schedule a federal election. Legislative lawyers said he was bound by the dates specified in federal law; the groups that challenged the maps argued he had all the precedent he needed to either push back the Nov. 4 general election or schedule additional special elections early next year.
“I’m extremely skeptical that I can do what the plaintiffs are asking,” Lewis said at the end of a three-hour hearing Thursday.