The Washington Post

The tricky racial politics of undoing gerrymandering in Florida

When a circuit court judge in Florida threw out the state's congressional map, ordering that it redraw the lines bounding two districts by the middle of this month, it seemed like a victory for opponents of gerrymandering. The decision from Judge Terry Lewis focused on the fact that the state's 5th and 10th districts were drawn both surreptitiously and in violation of a state law aimed at preventing districts designed specifically to help one party or the other.

In the wake of the decision -- and the imminent mandate that the 5th and 10th be reworked -- there's been a perhaps unexpected source of opposition to the move: the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, a coalition of black legislators that includes among its members Rep. Corrine Brown, the Democrat who represents the 5th Congressional District. Last week, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the chair of the group, wrote to Democratic leadership to protest the party's support for reworking the lines.

Here's how Florida's black population is distributed, with higher density areas in brighter colors. (The data is from the Census Bureau and shows data for Census tracts.) It's largely random, sweeping from the Northwest to Southeast.

And here's the overall racial composition of each of the state's congressional districts, with Brown's highlighted. It's remarkable: Three over 50 percent African American, two that are about a quarter black, and then everything else under 14 percent.

Why single out Brown's 5th district? Here's a map that isolates the 5th district, showing where there are pockets of black population. It starts outside Orlando, slides over to Sanford, northwest to Gainesville, east to Palatka, and then north to Jacksonville. In each place, more of the state's black population is added to the total.

For Brown, this is advantageous, keeping her district both heavily Democratic and a majority black. It creates an awkward map, and was clearly done with both of those goals in mind. But as the beneficiary of that effort, Brown isn't complaining.

What happens if the map is redrawn? Almost certainly one or more of those population centers will be removed from Brown's district, and almost certainly that will reduce the density of its black population. The court's goal is fair representation within the state of Florida. The CBC's goal, clearly, is a Congress that better represents what America looks like. The United States is 13 percent black; Congress is just over 10 percent black.

Moving black voters out of Brown's district doesn't mean that Brown won't win reelection this year, or in the future. But no politician ever likes to see his or her base of support weakened -- no matter how it was cobbled together.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debate Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
What to expect tonight
Tonight's debate is likely to focus on the concerns of African American and Latino voters. Clinton has focused in recent days on issues like gun control, criminal-sentencing reform, and the state of drinking water in Flint, Mich. Sanders has been aggressively moving to appeal to the same voters, combining his core message about economic unfairness with his own calls to reform the criminal-justice system.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
Clinton in New Hampshire: 2008 vs. 2015
Hillary Clinton did about as well in N.H. this year as she did in 2008, percentage-wise. In the state's main counties, Clinton performed on average only about two percentage points worse than she did eight years ago (according to vote totals as of Wednesday morning) -- and in five of the 10 counties, she did as well or better.
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.