Clock ticking for state lawmakers on redistricting fix

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The clock is ticking for state lawmakers to redraw the congressional districts. The move comes after a Florida judge declared the current district map unconstitutional, and the legislature called a special session to fix the problem.

"This is one way that we see it was one-sided," says Patricia Benson, chairwoman of the Manatee County Democratic Party. She’s talking about the congressional voting district maps implemented back in 2010.

"[The] configuration was there to save the powers of political parties," she says.

According to a ruling by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, the current map unfairly benefits the Republican Party. Lewis declared two of the state’s 27 districts were unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to fix the redistricting map immediately, despite the fact that multiple primary elections are currently in progress.

"Our arguments were that because we had already started the primary election and mailed absentee ballots … that we couldn’t really change that for 2014, but Judge Lewis ruled that we couldn’t wait until 2016," explains Kathy Dent, Sarasota Supervisor of Elections.

Lewis' ruling gave lawmakers until August 15 to get the redistricting done, and the legislature has responded by calling a special session.

But the order isn't sitting well with some. State Senator Nancy Detert, represents district 28 and she sent us this statement:

"I don't see how we can re-draw 2 districts without affecting all of the other districts. This cascade would impact candidates who are already listed on the ballot for those seats and would prompt more lawsuits. We would have to re-draw the maps, take public input in those communities, and submit the maps to the courts. Absentee ballots have already been sent out and voters are voting. I would be very surprised if one local judge has the power to throw an entire election into chaos."

Joe Gruter, the chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota, agrees.

"I think the judge personally made a mistake, and I think that his idea to have these redrawn by August 15th is totally insane," he says.

But Benson argues change is necessary.

"What’s right is right, and if it needs to be done it needs to be done, so let’s consider the voters of this country and not the political powers and who’s in control<” Benson says. “It’s about the people and the right of the people."

"You talk about throwing things into chaos to have all 27 districts redrawn by August 15th,” Dent says. “You’ve got to think that most of these [legislators] are not expecting to be back in Tallahassee for a special session, and now all of a sudden they have to go back …”