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Arkansas group proposes independent redistricting commission

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

A coalition of activist groups has announced a new proposal to change the way political district boundaries are redrawn in Arkansas.

The group People Not Politicians announced last Wednesday it had filed a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would create a Citizens’ Redistricting Commission, comprised of three Republicans, three Democrats and three members not affiliated with either party.

Group spokesperson Loriee Evans says the goal is to limit political influence in the redistricting process.

“That will mean a more transparent system for redistricting where voters will be able to choose their own politicians, rather than right now [where] we see politicians kind of choosing their groups of voters,” Evans said. “And that creates a system where elected officials are then accountable to special interest groups and politicians rather than to voters themselves.”

Currently, the state’s U.S. House districts are drawn by the legislature, while state House and Senate maps are drawn by the Board of Apportionment, composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Evans says the most recent district maps drawn by the board and approved in November do not fairly represent all Arkansans.

“The Board of Apportionment has a number of criteria published on its website… such as to keep towns and communities of interest together. That criteria was violated numerous times with lines drawn to divide communities and crack various groups of voters across the state,” Evans said.

Potential commissioners would apply for the position, with a three-person panel made up of retired Supreme Court justices and Appeals Court judges choosing members. People who have been lobbyists, elected officials or political operatives in the past five years would be barred from serving on the commission.

Organizers must collect just under 90,000 signatures from at least 15 Arkansas counties by a July deadline in order for the proposal to go before voters on the Nov. 2022 ballot.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas announced last week it has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the proposed district map for the Arkansas House of Representatives drawn by the Board of Apportionment. The lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

In a statement, the ACLU said the map “denies Black Arkansans an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice.”

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