By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) - Leaders of a voter coalition contesting Florida’s congressional district boundaries are vowing to continue a court battle claiming that a new map approved on Monday fails to meet the state's anti-gerrymandering rules.
“They’ve done this in a crafty way, to make sure the political result is not changed,” Tom Zehnder, an attorney for Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of Florida and some voters who challenged the current congressional districts, said of boundaries approved by state lawmakers along party lines on Monday.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who threw out the existing map last month, has a hearing set for Aug. 20 to consider the new boundaries.
The Republican-run legislature made relatively minor adjustments to the districts of U.S. Representatives Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, and Daniel Webster, a Republican from Winter Garden, whose districts Lewis ruled were in violation of the state's constitutional ban on gerrymandering to protect incumbents or favor either party.
The leadership ignored a much different map submitted by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, which would have reduced minority voter concentration in Brown’s Jacksonville-Orlando district, while adding many more Hispanic and black voters to Webster’s district in the Orlando area.
“We don’t think they’ve done justice to the judge’s ruling or the law’s criteria," said Deirdre Macnab, state president of the League of Women Voters.
Republican legislative leaders said the new map was drawn without regard to protecting incumbents or packing Republicans or Democrats into any districts.
“I would expect that the plaintiffs won’t be happy until they can win in the courts what they always lose on election day,” Senate President Don Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville, told reporters.
Peter Butzin, state chairman of Common Cause, said Republican leaders gave short shrift to the alternative offered by his organization and the League of Women Voters.
“What the legislature has done consistently has been to pack Democratic, minority voters into District 5 (Brown’s seat) — thereby bleaching the neighboring districts,” said Butzin.
In addition to the redrawn lines, Lewis will consider the election-year calendar. Early voting for the Aug. 26 primaries has already begun, using the district lines drawn in 2012 and thrown out by the court.