Thursday, March 18, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas residents are getting U.S. Census forms in the mail. Next year the state Board of Apportionment will take the census figures and redraw the boundaries of our political landscape.

The Board of Apportionment consists of three constitutional officers: the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state. Their staff will use computers and information technology to redraw the geographic boundaries of all 100 districts in the House of Representatives and all 35 state Senate districts.

The purpose is to make all Senate and House districts roughly equal in population, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Redrawing maps after each census is a practical application of the "one man, one vote" principle, as defined by the Supreme Court.

For example, if one Senate district has almost 100,000 residents and another has only 55,000 residents, the influence of voters in the smaller district is probably greater than the influence of people in the larger district. The opinions of an individual voter are not heard as clearly in a district of 100,000 people as in a district of 55,000 people.

In the 10 years between every U.S. Census, population shifts can result in large disparities between Senate districts. Ten years ago, Senate districts were mapped out so that each one had a population of about 77,000 people. However, today some districts have more than 77,000 residents because their communities have grown, while other Senate districts have lost population.

After the census in 2000 Senate districts in eastern and southern Arkansas had lost population.

When the Board of Apportionment redrew the map, Senate districts in those regions expanded geographically.

In northwest Arkansas the population had grown dramatically and Senate districts shrank in geographic size. The northwest corner of Arkansas gained an additional Senate district and eastern Arkansas lost a Senate district. It's expected that similar trends will be reported after the current census, with northwest Arkansas continuing to show population growth. Early estimates are that each Senate district will have about 82,000 residents.

The smallest Senate districts in Arkansas are in Pulaski County, where population is greatest and people live in more densely occupied cities.

The redrawing of legislative maps can cause political fallout. Here's an example that has occurred many times in the state's history: a particular town was always able to elect its own senator, but the town's growth did not keep pace with growth in neighboring counties. After the census, redistricting lumped that town with a larger town in another county. The community that lagged in population growth lost its hometown senator.

Of course the process also has political consequences for individual representatives and senators. After redistricting, a Democrat may find himself representing areas with heavy concentrations of Republicans, or vice versa. Re-election would be problematic in such a scenario.

Another result of redistricting has been that two incumbent senators, formerly representing two separate districts, have found themselves in the same district after the lines were redrawn. They had to run against each other when they sought re-election.

The elections of 2012 will be the first in which candidates run for the legislature from the newly drawn districts.

1 comment:

Maggie in Washington, AR said...

Dear Senator Teague:

Thank you for your outstanding blog. Redistricting has puzzled me a bit in the past. Your explanation is both clear and thorough.

Thank you!