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Florida: special congressional races not possible until 2015

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Florida's secretary of state said on Friday it would not be possible to hold special elections this fall in U.S. congressional districts that were invalidated by court order.

March is the earliest date special primary elections could be held in the affected districts, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a court filing.

Seven U.S. congressional districts were impacted by the redistricting maps passed this week by the state legislature.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled in July that two of the state's 27 congressional districts were unconstitutional due to gerrymandering. He found state Republican leaders improperly conspired to rig the boundaries to protect the party's majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Realigning the two districts - held by north Florida Democrat Corrine Brown and Orlando-area Republican Daniel Webster - had a ripple effect on five adjoining boundaries.

Lewis is scheduled to hear court arguments on Aug. 20 about whether to order special elections in the affected districts.

Republican legislative leaders and Detzner, a Republican, oppose delaying the November general elections, noting that early voting has begun for the Aug. 26 primaries.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and other plaintiffs who successfully sued the state over the 2012 redistricting maps say the boundaries should be fixed before the next election.

After consulting with local elections supervisors, Detzner said a special primary election could be held no earlier than March 17, 2015, and a general election on May 26.

That would not allow special elections to be held in time to meet federal requirements for members of Congress to begin their two-year terms by Jan. 3, Detzner noted.

But some questioned his timeline. Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, an independent, said the judge should reject the state's request to hold this year's elections with the flawed congressional map.

"You don’t want to reward the criminal by letting him keep the goods," said Sancho.

Legislative leaders filed a separate court filing on Friday, disputing the plaintiffs' claim that Democrats were shut out of a special session to redraw the maps.

"The remedial plan complies with all requirements of the Florida Constitution and with the court’s final judgment," lawyers for the legislature wrote.

The plaintiffs in the suit said in a statement that they disagreed and will file a court response on Monday.

(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by David Adams, Bill Trott and Jim Loney)

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