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State officials announce new district line proposals

Arkansas’s governor, secretary of state and attorney general voted to accept proposed maps of redrawn state legislative district lines Friday, kicking off a 30-day period for people to inspect and comment on the new maps before a final vote.

The proposed maps for state House and Senate seats are posted for review online.

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First impressions:

1. The number of House districts that encompass mainly minority populations will increase from 11 to 13 of the 100 seats.

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2. Arkansas will get its first majority Hispanic House district.

3. The number of state Senate districts that encompass mainly minority populations remains at 4 of 35.

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4. Things look dicey down in Southeast Arkansas, in the only proposed new district where incumbents will be pitted against each other. In fact, three sitting representatives, two Republicans and one Democrat, would be drawn into the same district under the proposal on the table. Those representatives are Reginald Murdoch (D-Marianna), David Tollett (R-Lexa) and Mark McElroy (R-Tillar).

5. Democratic powerhouse Rep. Megan Godfrey of Springdale sees a big shift in boundary lines, with her address on the southern border of a new district that’s almost entirely different from her old one.

Rep. Megan Godfrey would see a big shift in her district under proposed new maps.

The maps being proposed came after eight public meetings were held across the state to get input. The turnout at those meetings ran the gamut, from well-educated academics to more regular folks, said Betty Dickey, a former justice who served as redistricting coordinator.

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“At one meeting an elderly man dressed in overalls, barefoot, with a long beard, said he was there because he just wanted to understand the process,” Dickey said.

Ensuring minority voices could be heard was a priority, Governor Hutchinson said.

“An area of concern has always been the majority minority districts,” Hutchinson said. “We wanted to make sure those districts do not decline, that is a key part of our important efforts historically, to improve representation for our minority populations.”

(Hutchinson’s comments of course bring to mind the very different approach state legislators took with congressional redistricting, approving maps that carve minority voters away from current districts, diluting their voices.)

The public has 30 days to review the proposals and make comments before the Board of Apportionment, made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, reconvene for a final vote.

If the maps are accepted, Dec. 29 is the last day to file legal challenges before the maps become official on Dec. 30.