LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Arkansas State Board of Apportionment met this morning to decide on the redistricting maps to be used in the state for the next ten (10) years. The Board of Apportionment is comprised of the Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State. The Governor, Mike Beebe and the Attorney General, Dustin McDaniel, are Democrats. The Secretary of State, Mark Martin, is a Republican. Ten years ago the make up of the board was 2-1. Former Governor and Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee was the Governor and lone Republican on the Board of Apportionment.
The Republicans and Democrats have staked out consistent positions within the Board of Apportionment as it relates to majority-minority districts. Republicans have sought to increase the number of districts while Democrats have sought to reduce the number of districts. The rationale has little to do with helping black people, however, The rationale is that black people in Arkansas have so consistently and overwhelmingly voted for the democratic candidate that they should be used to carry out the larger "party" plan rather than the sought out empowerment plan.
Majority-minority districts by their nature group black people together in districts. The purpose is to grant to black people the political power to elect "representatives of their choice." The framework within which electing these representatives has been established is a review of precinct by precinct polling results to see if there has been racial block voting. That means that the data are analyzed to determine whether white people are voting as a block or group for a candidate and whether black people (or other minorities) are doing the same thing. Once it is established that racial block voting occurs, then there must be consideration of how the lines are drawn and how that impacts the citizens and the candidates.
Black people have no right to elected other black people. That is simply not the law. Neither does white people have right to elect other white people. That is not the law either. The law is that every person's vote should be counted or weighted equally. Then the majority of the voters choose the representative to serve all of the people of the district, ward, zone, or area. To achieve this goal, districts are not supposed to divide people of similar characteristics in ways that illegally impact who can be elected by them. For example, if all of the black people live in one area of town, perhaps because of some 1920's or 1930's laws, then you could literally take a line through the middle of the neighborhood and create two majority white districts where the majority of people (i. e. white people) would be able to choose the representative. On the other hand, if you drew the black people all into one district, then they would overwhelmingly choose their representative.
These majority-minority districts did not exist in Arkansas until the late 1980's and early 1990's. Prior to that time, there were few if any black representatives in the Arkansas House of Representatives or State Senate. Litigation, not goodwill on the part of the people in charge, brought about the change in districts and their composition. This litigation, known in Arkansas as Jeffers vs. Clinton, led to there being 13 State Representative Districts and four State Senate Districts in Arkansas.
The maps voted into law today on a 2-1 party line vote reduced the number of majority-minority State Representative seats to 11 from 13 and sustained the Senate with four majority-minority State Senate districts.
The current mood across the country is to draw more "party" based districts rather than "race" based districts. This premise could be dangerous to the extent that party politics is or becomes a substitute or pretext for race politics. The question that will eventually have to be answered is how, when the black population in the state remained in the same percentage range, does the Board of Apportionment explain its need to reduce the number of majority-minority districts? The Republican party, a minority party in Arkansas, has said for two decades that more districts can be drawn legally. Will, if a suit is filed, the Republican controlled judiciary side with the Republicans, Democrats, Blacks or Whites?
If you would like to see the maps, go to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's online map page located at: http://www.arkansasonline.com/statedistricts/. You may also view this information on the State of Arkansas' Board of Apportionment webpage which is found at: http://www.arkansasredistricting.org.
We will provide a follow-up story on how the new maps will impact Phillips County, Arkansas. There will be two State Senate Districts in Phillips County: One controlled by Crittenden County and the other controlled by Jefferson County. There will be one state representative district in Phillips County and the voters within the county will likely control that district in terms of selecting the State Representative.