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Redistricting watchdogs dispute state's claim of more diverse districts

Arkansas Board of Apportionment
A map displays new proposed district lines for the Arkansas House of Representatives

Advocates for fair redistricting say state officials may not be working to preserve the voting power of minority groups in Arkansas.

A statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People warns that new maps for the state’s House and Senate districts may not fairly represent all Arkansans. This comes after the state Board of Apportionment, comprised of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, released new House and Senate district maps in a meeting last Friday.

At that meeting, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the new maps increase the number of House districts in which people from minority groups are in the majority. But, ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson says that may not necessarily be true.

“It appears the Board of Apportionment used total population numbers in drawing the maps and in saying that there are new majority-minority districts, whereas the appropriate measure is the voting age population. That is the standard under federal law that the voting age population, not the total population, should be calculated,” Dickson said.

Hutchinson said the new House of Representatives map increases the number of majority-minority districts from 11 to 13, in addition to adding the state’s first majority Latino House district in northwest Arkansas. The four majority-minority districts in the Senate would remain unchanged under the proposed district map.

Dickson says her team is continuing to use Census data to look for disparities included in the state’s new House and Senate district maps. She says the goal is to ensure the voting power of minority communities.

“We have concerns that the maps that we’re currently operating under dilute the power of Black voters in Arkansas. And so we would like to see that that is addressed, and that communities are not either all packed in one district, or divided to dilute their power,” Dickson said.

She suggests the new state legislative districts could potentially seek to isolate communities of color, which could then dilute their vote. That could have disastrous consequences for already underserved communities in the state, Dickson said.

“If our Black voters and communities of color are not adequately represented in the redistricting process, they are not adequately represented in our democracy,” Dickson said. “It would perpetuate the systemic inequality that many voters of color already face.”

The proposed House and Senate district maps are subject to a 30-day public comment period, after which they face a final vote by the Board of Apportionment. If approved, the proposed maps would go into effect on Dec. 30.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.