Local officials, advocates ramp up efforts to support, block local, state and congressional redistricting maps
November 22-28, 2021
By The Daily Record Staff
Efforts are underway to finalize local, county, state and federal redistricting initiatives that will alter Arkansas political lines ahead of the 2022 primary and general elections.
On Nov. 14, the Arkansas for a United Natural State (AFUNS), brought together more than a dozen local nonprofits and community organizations to organize efforts to block controversial congressional redistricting legislation that many election advocates say will weaken the state’s largest Black voting bloc in Pulaski County.
Kwami Abdul-Bey, co-convener Arkansas Peace & Justice Memorial Movement (APJMM), said AFUNS coalition is taking a multi-layered plan to keep recently approved redistricting bills from becoming law by Jan. 14, 2022. During the special session called on Sept. 29, the Republican supermajorities in the Arkansas and Senate approved Senate Bill 743 and House Bill 1982 that removes 21,000 African American residents in Pulaski County from the Second Congressional District and moves them to the First and Fourth congressional districts.
Since the state legislature formally ended the special session on Thursday (Oct. 14), opponents of the bills, now Act 1114 of 2021 and Act 1116 of 2021, have 90 days to collect 54,000 signatures from at least 15 Arkansas counties to overturn the legislation and to prevent the new map from going into effect. Once those signatures are collected and validated by the Attorney General’s Office, the redistricting bill would be put before Arkansas voters as a proposed ballot initiative in the 2022 general election.
“We would like to collect a minimum of 72,000 no later than Jan. 10, 2022, and if possible, no later than Dec. 23,” Abdul-Bey said, noting that typically hundreds of signatures are thrown about due to duplications and incomplete validation and information. Under Arkansas law, if enough submitted signatures are verified to put the petition at or above 75% of the required signatures, petitioners have an extra 30 days to collect supplementary signatures or prove invalidated signatures were actually valid.
Besides the ongoing petition drives, state and federal lawsuits are also in the pipeline to undo the GOP efforts to redraw Arkansas’ four congressional seats all held by Republicans. The U.S. Constitution gives the Arkansas General Assembly the sole authority and responsibility to formulate the redistricting plan every ten years for Arkansas’ four congressional districts. Although he refused to veto Act 1114 and 1116, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has expressed concerns that the legislation could dilute Black and minority votes.
“If challenged, the judicial branch, as it has done in past years, will determine the constitutionality of the map,” Hutchinson said a month ago. “I am concerned about the impact of the redistricting plan on minority populations.”
“While the percentage of the minority composition of the proposed map for three of the four districts does not differ much from the current percentages, the removal of minority areas in Pulaski County into two different districts raises concerns,” added Hutchinson. “I have been contacted by many asking me to veto the legislation. I decided not to veto the bills but instead to let them go into law without my signature. This will enable those who wish to challenge this redistricting plan in court to do so.”
Meanwhile, congressional redistricting in Arkansas faces strong opposition, efforts to redraw state and local political boundaries are also moving forward. On Oct. 29, the state Board of Apportionment released proposed interactive maps for the Arkansas General Assembly’s 100 House and 35 Senate seats.
The Board of Apportionment, consisting of the sitting Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General, was created in 1936 by Amendment 23 to the Arkansas Constitution. It is tasked after every U.S. census with redrawing the 135 legislative seats so that each district meets various legal criteria, including each district being about the same size in population.
After the 2010 Census, Arkansas 100 House representatives and 35 senators each served about 29,000 and 83,000 residents, respectively. Since late August, the Board of Apportionment and its appointees have set out to figure out how to equally divide districts from the state’s resident population from the 2020 Census on April 1 of 3,011,524, an increase of 3.3% or 95,606 persons since 2010.
Under the 2020 population totals, each of the 100 legislators in the Arkansas House would represent more than 30,000 people, while state senators would advocate for nearly 87,000 constituents. The apportionment board’s interactive maps will allow the public to input their home address to see street level detail of the proposed districts in their community.
The maps also display the demographic composition of the proposed districts. The public may provide comments on specific areas of the maps. Once a comment is made, it will become part of the public record. As chair of the state board, Gov. Hutchinson has called a Nov. 29 meeting to integrate the public feedback into the maps before final approval.
New 2020 census data helps city, county officials redraw local political maps
At the local level, City of Little Rock on Friday (Nov. 12) released the proposed new boundaries to redraw the new boundaries for the city’s seven wards. Like state and congressional redistricting efforts, the City of Little Rock’s is also required to redraw ward boundaries every 10 years after receiving new census data.
Last month, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. proposed two maps that realigned the city’s seven wards to handle the city’s decade-long population growth and more diverse demographics. Scott said his map introduced new 2020 Census data showing that Little Rock now has 202,591 residents, the first time in state history that an Arkansas city has surpassed the 200K mark. According to Scott, the new count represents an increase of 9,067 new residents in the past 10 years, or a growth rate of 4.69%.
The Census data also show a diversifying city, Mayor Scott said, with a large gain among the population identifying as “two or more races,” up 3,374 to 11,626 or up 244.58%. Those identifying as “white alone” make up 44% of the population, while all other single and multiracial categories comprise 56% of the city’s residents. The Hispanic and Latino population (of any race) grew from 13,076 to 20,285, a growth rate of 55.13%.
To account for those changes, Mayor Scott’s first draft map here proposes that city officials redraw new boundaries in a comparable manner as past redistricting efforts by keeping every director in their current ward with the least amount of change. Like the redrawing of the congressional districts by the legislature, the City of Little Rock must redraw the geographic boundaries from which voters elect city council and school board representatives while accounting for population and demographic shifts from the 2020 Census.
Mayor Scott’s second map proposal, however, offered more dramatic changes to the city’s ward boundaries using what he called “recommended principles of redistricting.” Under this map, the city would reshape the boundaries of six of the seven districts across the city except for the far west Ward 5, which is now represented by Vice Mayor Lance Hines.
“Wards are compact and contiguous, all neighborhoods and communities of interest are kept intact, I-630 is eliminated as a boundary and no longer divides our Wards, each ward closely resembles the makeup of the city, and each ward is closer to our target number of 28,950,” wrote Scott.
However, the 10-member city board of directors approved a Hines-led ordinance to reject the mayor’s map proposal and instead give the task of redrawing ward boundaries to City Manager Bruce Moore on behalf of the City Board. In releasing the proposed ward maps, city officials said they will solicit comments through Nov. 26.
“In order to maintain equitable representation, each of the City’s wards must have approximately 28,941 residents, plus or minus 5%. The maps on this page were drawn to meet that requirement, while also creating wards that are also contiguous and inclusive,” said a statement from City of Little Rock spokesman Spencer Watson.
On the county level, the deadline for the Pulaski County Board of Elections to approve to new school zones is Dec. 1. The deadline for election commissioners to adopt county quorum court districts is Jan 3, 2022. Today, there are 15 Justice of The Peace office holders that serve a population of just over 399,000 across Pulaski County, 2020 census data shows.
MAP CAPTION: The City of Little Rock has released the new proposed boundaries for the city's seven ward boundaries. Local residents can provide comments through Nov. 26.