Public Comment Prompts Change to State’s Only Hispanic-Majority District

Legal challenges to the state’s redistricting map must be filed by Dec. 29.

Adopted 2021 Arkansas House District Map

The Arkansas Board of Apportionment unanimously approved new boundaries for state Senate and House districts this morning. The board made changes to maps originally proposed Oct. 29 following 30 days of public comment. This was the first time the board allowed an additional month of public input and more than 800 comments were submitted through the state’s redistricting website.

As a result of this feedback, several changes were made in Arkansas House district boundaries including District 9 in Springdale. After receiving several comments about the state’s first Hispanic-majority district, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the district has been adjusted so it is now a majority voting age Latino district. 

In the Arkansas Senate, officials redrew the map to keep Hot Springs Village and Fort Smith whole. They also removed county splits from Stone County and Searcy County. The changes illustrate how important the 30-day comment period has been, Hutchinson said.

“I know that all of the concerns expressed have not been able to be adjusted and again, there’s broader reasons in terms of the entire map that constrained our action in that regard,” he said. 

The governor is a member of the Arkansas Board of Apportionment along with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston. The board must redraw boundaries for the state’s 100 House and 35 Senate districts following the release of new U.S. Census data each decade. 

Several factors are considered while redrawing the maps including ensuring each district has roughly the same population, minimizing partisanship and keeping communities of interest together. The districts must also meet Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (as amended), which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or language minority.

The new House district map has 12 majority-minority districts, which includes 11 African American majority districts and one Hispanic majority district. That’s one fewer than the 13 officials proposed in the original map in October, but one more than the 11 approved during the 2011 redistricting process. The number of majority-minority districts remains at four in the Senate.

The Democratic Party of Arkansas issued a statement this afternoon saying the new maps are “a clear example of racial gerrymandering,” illegal and will be challenged in court, which will be costly for the state.

“They cracked minority populations along the Delta, diluting Black votes and weakening Black incumbents along the Mississippi River and in South Arkansas, while also packing minority populations elsewhere,” Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman Grant Tennille said. “The board claims to have created the state’s first Latinx district; what they actually did was ignore that Springdale’s currently drawn downtown district has grown into a majority-Latinx district.”

Former Chief Justice Betty Dickey was appointed the Arkansas Board of Apportionment coordinator July 7. She led eight public meetings across the state in July and August where she gathered feedback from Arkansans to help inform the redistricting maps proposed in October. Her contract lasts through Dec. 15 but if her services are needed after that, the governor said they will figure out daily compensation.

Now that the board has approved the new maps for Arkansas legislative districts, legal challenges can be filed through Dec. 29. If none are filed, the new maps will become official Dec. 30. 

Final maps and documents from the public comment period will be added to the state’s redistricting website today, Sec. Thurston said. Information about each individual district is expected to be added to the site by Thursday. 

 

Editors Note: This story has been updated to include comments from the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.