Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau provided the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico with population counts to use in drawing of the electoral district boundaries for representation in Congress, state legislatures, and many county and municipal offices--a process also known as "redistricting."
The district maps that get drawn in the days and months ahead will determine if and how Arkansans' political voices are heard in our government for the next 10 years--these lines dictate not only who runs for public office and who is elected, but also how financial resources are allocated for schools, hospitals, roads and more.
As the once-in-a-decade process begins in our community, elected officials have an obligation to ensure that Arkansas voters are choosing their politicians--not the other way around. District maps must ensure fair and equal representation for all people, upholding the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection and complying with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Arkansas' governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, through their designees, make up the Board of Apportionment which is responsible for drawing boundaries for the 100 House of Representative districts and 35 Senate districts in the state. State senators and representatives are responsible for drawing the boundaries for U.S. House of Representatives districts in Arkansas.
Historically, instead of drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries that accurately reflect their population, many states have drawn maps that are not fair.
Ensuring unbiased districting is about fairness, not partisan politics. When district maps are drawn fairly, we are able to elect legislators who represent Arkansans' values--and vote out the ones who do not. But too often and in too many places, many politicians have abused the districting process to manipulate the outcome of elections. They slice and dice Arkansas communities and rig the maps so they don't have to listen to their constituents--a process called gerrymandering. A study concerning state legislative gerrymandering showed Arkansas to have extreme disproportionality such that our legislative districts are out of sync with voters' choices.
Along with the far-reaching consequences gerrymandering can have on our everyday lives, improper redistricting can result in unequal representation in our voting districts, the dilution of the full voting power of minority voters, and fractured communities. Communities of color, in particular, have faced numerous obstacles to meaningful participation in the political process, including the redistricting process.
Just this legislative session, we saw Arkansas legislators move at breakneck speed to erect new barriers to the ballot that will disproportionately impact voters of color, as well as elderly, rural, and low-income Arkansans. These laws make it easier for partisan politicians to interfere with local election administrators--something that could have disastrous consequences for democracy.
As redistricting begins nationwide, the ACLU of Arkansas will continue to monitor the redistricting process here to help ensure an outcome that heeds the fundamental principles of democracy, representation, and equality. Learn more at acluarkansas.org/redistricting.
Holly Dickson is executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas.