The state legislature adjourned last week after two weeks of debate about the redistricting process. Arkansas has four congressional districts with each district representing approximately 700,000 people. Every 10 years, following the census, these maps are redrawn to account for population shifts across the state. The bill was sent to the governor on Thursday following a party line vote in both chambers.
The most notable change to the new map occurred in the second congressional district. Because of those shifts, the first district saw a slight adjustment sending neighboring Cleburne County over to the second district. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the state legislature and that majority is expected to hold for the next decade. Once the state lines are approved, some suggest that the majority will only expand.
Republicans eliminated the possibility of the second district being competitive over the next ten years. The second was the last of the four congressional district to be in play by the Democrats. While seats in the first, third, and fourth district have been won by more than 35 point margins, the margins in the second district have been cut to as low as 11 points. To compensate for the tighter margins, Republicans split Pulaski county into three districts rather than preserving the county line.
Splitting the state’s largest county into three congressional districts cuts the Democratic electorate in a way that guarantees that the four congressional districts remain Republican for the next ten years. Barring another political shift, the Republican control could hold for much longer.
The new map has left many democrats calling foul. Senator Keith Ingram (D) said in an interview in The Hill, “On the surface, it’s pure gerrymandering. They took high minority populations and split them. They have diluted the overall impact of the minority vote by doing this.” The Senate minority leader went on to say. “It is very curious that they would vote to split Pulaski County three ways.”
Pulaski county has not been divided up in any way since the modern redistricting process began in the 1960’s. Speaking of precedents, this is the first time since the civil war that republicans have had majority control of the redistricting process in Arkansas. The redistricting process should be the one aspect of our democracy immune from partisanship.
In 2019, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision stating that partisan redistricting is a political question and not reviewable by federal courts. This decision removes the veil from what has always been a politically charged process. In the same interview in The Hill Senator Ben Gilmore (R) defended the legislature’s move saying, “It was the intent of the legislature to look at political breakdowns of the county and to make sure that we drew seats that our party could hold going forward. That’s not something we’re trying to hide, this is a political process,” Gilmore said. “It is not our goal to gerrymander, it is our goal to draw districts that make sense.”
The governor and secretary of state’s office will be working to redraw district lines for state held offices and the map is expected to be completed later this fall. The redistricting process means that nearly every seat in state government will be up for grabs during the 2022 election cycle.