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Arkansas AG rejects sections of districting proposal

by John Moritz | March 9, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected on Thursday the name and description of a proposed constitutional amendment to set up an independent commission to draw legislative and congressional districts.

It was the first time Rutledge had opined on the wording of the measure, which was drafted by Little Rock attorney David Couch. Rutledge said there were ambiguities in the text that made it difficult for her to assess how it should be described to voters.

Before Couch can begin soliciting signatures in hopes of having the amendment placed on the November ballot, Rutledge will need to certify that the name and ballot title (a description of the measure) arefairly and accurately written for voters.

The amendment would create a seven-member commission to draw the boundaries for Arkansas' legislative and congressional seats after the U.S. Census every 10 years. The proposal comes as other states grapple with how to reduce politically motivated map-making, also known as gerrymandering.

Couch, who drafted an amendment to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, said Rutledge's decision was "totally expected."

It often takes several attempts for drafters of ballot measures to get the language right. Couch said Rutledge's comments were "helpful," and he will make fixes where she expressed concerns, before resubmitting his proposal Monday.

In describing the amendment to voters, Couch's ballot title addressed who the commissioners would be, and what could bar them from office. He also gave detailed instructions for what commissioners could and could not consider when drawing the maps -- and standards for what the maps look should look like.

Couch's description of the measure came in at 971 words, which Rutledge said appeared to be "overly long and highly detailed" -- though not necessarily enough to disqualify the description.

Still, Couch's ballot title was an abbreviated version of the amendment itself, which came in at 15 pages.

Rutledge said unresolved questions in the text of the amendment -- such as the length of commission members' terms, and the definition of "irregularly shaped" districts -- need to be cleared up before she can consider the accuracy of the ballot description.

The attorney general also took issue with Couch's describing the commission as "independent."

"Independent of what? Independent of whom?" Rutledge wrote.

Under the current redistricting process, congressional seats are drawn by the Legislature, while legislative seats are drawn by the Board of Apportionment, which consists of the attorney general, the governor and the secretary of state.

"Nothing in the current law suggests that the apportionment and redistricting process are dependent upon anything other than the judgment of the public officials involved who were elected by voters," Rutledge wrote.

In a brief phone call Thursday, Couch said he had yet to come up with another way to describe the commission, which under his amendment would be made up of appointees of the House and Senate leaders, as well as three registered independent voters.

In a later text message, Couch suggested one alternative: "The citizens not politicians commission."

Metro on 03/09/2018

Print Headline: AG rejects sections of districting proposal

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