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Florida Governor DeSantis wants to eliminate 2 proposed Black voting districts

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

States around the country are drawing up new boundaries for congressional districts to reflect the 2020 census results. In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is threatening to veto the maps that have been approved by the legislature. He wants to reconfigure two districts so that Black candidates would not be likely to win those seats. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Ron DeSantis has emerged as a national leader in the Republican Party by taking outspoken positions on controversial topics. Now he's setting his sights on overturning laws that protect the voting rights of African Americans. Florida's Legislature recently drew up maps maintaining protected African American voting districts approved after the 2010 census. In recent years, the Supreme Court has weakened the Federal Voting Rights Act, and DeSantis believes discrimination to stop Black voters in the past is no longer a problem.

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RON DESANTIS: You would have parts of the country where the African American turnout was, like, 8%. I mean, obviously, they were not being allowed to vote. Now you have turnout rates that are much higher across the board. So I think it'd be very, very difficult to show that.

ALLEN: Civil rights lawyer Cecile Scoon says racial discrimination at the polls is not a thing of the past. Scoon, African American and president of the League of Women Voters in Florida, says for evidence, just look at laws recently passed in Florida and other states.

CECILE SCOON: They are making voting more difficult for individuals with what we consider to be voter suppression laws - unnecessary ID requirements, limiting drop box uses - really what it is is trying to shut the voice of the people.

ALLEN: In Florida, the responsibility of drawing up new congressional maps is left to lawmakers. DeSantis does, however, have a veto, and he said repeatedly that he plans to use it on the maps approved by the Republican-controlled legislature. Michael McDonald, a redistricting expert and professor at the University of Florida, believes DeSantis is being motivated in part by 2024 presidential ambitions.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: DeSantis doesn't want to look to be the politician, the governor that gave control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats.

ALLEN: Following the census, Florida is gaining one House seat for a total of 28. Under DeSantis's map, Republicans would likely gain three seats over what they have now. Florida is not alone in wanting to challenge protected districts for African Americans. Alabama and Georgia have also produced congressional district maps that have been met by lawsuits. The Supreme Court has said the contested maps in these states will be used in the upcoming election because changing them now would cause, quote, "chaos and confusion." That means the congressional map proposed by DeSantis would represent a significant win for the GOP if he can convince Republican lawmakers to sign on. So far, that hasn't happened. During the legislative session, Republican leaders resisted pressure from the governor to adopt his maps, and they've adjourned. Ellen Freidin is with a nonpartisan voting rights group FairDistricts. It's filed a lawsuit asking the courts to step in because, Freidin says, the legislature and governor have shown they're unable to agree on new maps.

ELLEN FREIDIN: At this point, there is no reason to think that there isn't going to be an impasse.

ALLEN: Florida voters actually decided about a decade ago to ban political gerrymandering and to make sure that minority voting districts are protected in the state. DeSantis says he believes those measures violate the federal constitution, and he wants the courts to strike them down. Ultimately, it's a battle over political power in a state that's almost evenly divided between Republican and Democratic voters. Despite that, Republicans control the legislature and nearly all statewide offices, and Freidin says DeSantis wants to keep it that way.

FREIDIN: He's calling it wanting to do away with racial preferences, but what it really is is he wants to be able to gerrymander these maps.

ALLEN: So far, Republican leaders in Florida's Legislature aren't indicating they're willing to go along with the governor and produce maps that will tie them up in expensive, time-consuming lawsuits. If DeSantis vetoes their maps, the Republican leaders will have some choices to make - go along with the governor, override his veto or do nothing and let the courts decide. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.