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Judge doubts Florida election maps can be fixed by November

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) - A judge who ruled Florida’s new congressional districts were unconstitutional earlier this month expressed doubt Thursday that he can postpone next month’s primary election for a quick fix of the political boundaries.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he will rule by the end of next week on a request by the Republican-run legislature to proceed with the 2014 elections, using the flawed district lines.

Lawyers for the League of Women Voters and a coalition of Florida citizens argued that there is still time to realign the districts. The judge ordered two districts redrawn because they were designed to benefit incumbents. Those districts are held by U.S. Representatives Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Daniel Webster of Orlando.

   The legislature offered not to appeal the ruling if Lewis allowed lawmakers to redraw the lines during next year's legislative session and use the revised maps in 2016.

"I have to tell you I'm extremely skeptical that I can do what the plaintiffs want me to do," said Lewis. "It's going to be very difficult to just get a map drawn in a reasonable period of time for the supervisors of election and secretary of state" to print ballots and send ballots to affected voters," he added.

Attorney George Meros, representing the House of Representatives, said a few thousand overseas ballots have already been returned and realigning the districts now would throw the whole election process into chaos.

   David King, representing the League of Women Voters of Florida, said that would amount to rewarding Republican legislative leaders for illegally rigging the districts two years ago. It may be inconvenient for county elections supervisors in central and northeast Florida to adjust the lines, but King said it can be done, even if it requires pushing the primary date into September, for all 27 congressional seats.

(Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)