Group proposes Arkansas redistricting effort

FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this 2019 file photo.
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this 2019 file photo.

A group proposing to "end partisan gerrymandering" in Arkansas filed on Thursday its formal draft of a state constitutional amendment that it wants to put before voters this November to create a new commission in charge of redistricting.

The group, Arkansas Voters First, filed its proposal with the Secretary of State's office on Thursday.

Backers, who include David Couch, the author of the state's 2016 amendment legalizing medical marijuana, say they will begin gathering signatures immediately in hopes of qualifying the proposal for the ballot.

Gerrymandering, which refers to the drawing of legislative districts in a way that benefits one political party or politician, has become the subject of court battles in other states, along with legislative efforts to take redistricting out of the hands of elected officials, with varying success.

Democrats, who controlled the state's redistricting process for years before losing control of state government, have generally been more open to adopting non-partisan redistricting in Arkansas. When Couch put forward a similar proposal in 2018, it was met with opposition from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican.

Under the Arkansas Constitution, redistricting for the state's congressional districts is handled by the Legislature after each census. The governor, secretary of state and attorney general together draw the districts for the state House and Senate.

The proposed amendment filed by Arkansas Voters First would do away with that process, and replace it with a nine-member commission that would draw both congressional and state legislative districts.

The amendment instructs that the commissioners draw maps that do not "unduly favor or disfavor any political party," and that limit the number of counties and cities divided between districts.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.