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Officials propose redrawn Arkansas House, Senate district maps

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge preside over a meeting of the state Board of Apportionment.
Arkansas PBS
Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge preside over a meeting of the state Board of Apportionment on Friday.

For the first time, Arkansas officials are proposing a new state House of Representatives district with a majority Hispanic population.

Newly-redrawn maps for the state’s House and Senate districts were revealed Friday at a meeting of the Arkansas Board of Apportionment, which is made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said a key goal was to protect the influence of districts whose minority populations are currently in the majority.

“On the House side, we’ll go from 11 majority-minority districts to 13, and as part of this, we’ll have the first in history majority Latino district in northwest Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “So all of that combined would give us 13 majority-minority districts. The Senate map would remain at four.”

Hutchinson says the new maps more or less equally divide the state into 35 Senate districts and 100 House districts. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised the new proposed district, which would be located in the fastest-growing part of the state.

“It’s important also… that we are reflective of our population growth in northwest Arkansas, in particular having the first Latino majority-minority district in the state. We’re going to continue, I believe, as projections occur to see this population increase in Arkansas, and these maps reflect that,” Rutledge said.

Redistricting coordinator and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Betty Dickey said the board almost succeeded in preventing any sitting incumbent lawmakers from having to run against each other.

“It is our attempt to avoid making them run against each other because they reflect the will of the voters. In the House, there is one race in which incumbents are pitted against each other… there are three in one race, two Republicans and one Democrat,” Dickey said.

The number of whole counties included in districts also rose from 13 to 22 for the House, and from 37 to 42 for the Senate. According to Dickey, each new district fits within a 5% plus-or-minus deviation from a target population of 30,115 for House districts and 86,044 for Senate districts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the NAACP said later in the day that their attorneys and partners will analyze the new maps to ensure they fairly represent all Arkansans. In a press release, they also urged the Board of Apportionment to make its review process more accessible and transparent to the public.

"Too often and in too many places, many politicians have abused the districting process to manipulate the outcome of elections,” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson.

The maps are open to a 30-day public comment period, after which state officials can take a final vote. If no legal challenges to the maps are presented after that, they would go into effect in late December.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.