SPRINGDALE -- The proposed majority Hispanic state House District in Springdale doesn't add up to a Hispanic majority, according to a letter sent Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas to the state Board of Apportionment.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson made a point of announcing proposed House District 9 in east Springdale as a majority-minority district when the planned new legislative district maps first became public Oct. 29.
"This is historic in nature in terms of access and making sure that we continue equal access by all populations of our state," Hutchinson said at that time.
The state Board of Apportionment, of which Hutchinson is a member, "purports to create a new majority-Hispanic district at HD [House District] 9, but this claim is unfounded," the ACLU Arkansas letter says. The board redraws districts after each U.S. census to equalize population among them. The board consists of the sitting governor, attorney general and secretary of state. The census is conducted every 10 years. There are 100 state House districts and 35 Senate districts.
The board claimed to draw maps where minorities had a majority in 13 House districts on Oct. 29.
"However, two of these supposedly majority-minority districts are illusory," the ACLU claims. The real figure is 11, the same as the existing map, according to the group.
The board "has proposed maps that, among other things, severely under-represent Black Arkansans and thus fail to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965," the letter says.
Betty Dickey, director of the state Board of Apportionment's staff, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Tuesday that the board couldn't answer questions about majority-minority districts because the maps are still being edited. The board meets at 10:30 a.m. Monday for final consideration of the maps after a 30-day public comment period.
The proposed district in Springdale "has a Hispanic voting-age population percentage of less than 50% -- 47.6%." And the proposed district's adult Hispanic population who are citizens and eligible to vote is far lower at 27.8%, the ACLU letter says.
The "proposed district is not an effective majority-Hispanic district in any sense, nor is it at all likely to allow Hispanic voters to elect their preferred candidates," the ACLU letter says.
The letter also says in creating House District 34, the board's proposed map would eliminate Mississippi County's existing majority-Black district -- House District 55 in the existing map -- by reducing substantially the Black population in that district.
The apportionment board "did not need to eliminate what used to be an effective majority Black district in Mississippi County in order to create a majority-Black district in West Memphis," the letter says.
"According to the 2020 Census, Black people make up 16.5% of the total population in Arkansas," the ACLU letter says. "The BOA's proposed House map, however, creates only 11 majority-Black districts out of 100 total statewide, meaning it substantially under-represents Black Arkansans. It is possible, however, to create 16 reasonably compact majority-Black House districts out of 100 total statewide, thereby achieving rough proportionality.
"Similarly, the BOA's proposed Senate map creates just four majority Black districts out of 35 total statewide, constituting only 11.4% of all Senate districts and thus again severely under-representing Black Arkansans. Yet, it is possible to create a map with five reasonably compact majority-Black Senate districts out of 35 total statewide, which would constitute 14.3% of all Senate districts and therefore come much closer to matching the percentage of Black Arkansans statewide."
About 7.8% of Arkansans are Hispanic, according to census figures. There is some overlap between the Black and Hispanic population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Wednesday's letter is the latest criticism of district lines in downtown Springdale making up the border between proposed House Districts 9 and 11. That dividing line is by far the most controversial proposed boundary in the public comments on the apportionment board's website.
As of Wednesday, the decision to cut Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, out of the majority Hispanic district and divide downtown Springdale had drawn 89 comments total on the board website's public comment section and on its interactive maps. Of those, 66 opposed the change. No other proposed House or Senate district boundary drew more than 23 comments as of Wednesday, the board's website showed.