By William Patrick | The Center Square
Lawmakers gathered at the Louisiana Capitol on Friday to hold the state’s first redistricting meeting since the nation’s decennial census data was released.
The Joint Governmental Affairs Committee, composed of members from the state House and Senate, opened with a commitment to transparency.
Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, the committee’s House chair, said all redistricting maps and information used by the committee will be posted to the Legislature’s website.
“I’m looking forward to public input,” Stefanski said.
Senate chair Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, added, “We are very committed to this being an open and transparent process.”
State legislatures are required to use census data to apportion congressional districts and redraw voting boundaries according to population metrics and equitable representation.
According to the Louisiana secretary of state, the Legislature had a mandatory six-month timeframe to begin the post-census redistricting process, which lawmakers said will continue into 2022 and result in electoral configurations lasting for another 10 years.
Both congressional and legislative district maps are subject to gubernatorial veto, however.
Louisiana’s new “apportionment population” is 4,661,468, an increase of 124,385 residents since 2010. This entitles the state to six congressional seats, the same number it has now.
Committee analysts testified that while Louisiana’s overall population grew slightly, its intra-state population shifted significantly southward and into more urban areas.
The migration could lead to reapportioning one of two congressional seats from the northern part of the state to the southeast region, potentially flipping a Republican held seat to a more Democratic-inclined area.
Louisiana’s most populous parish is East Baton Rouge with nearly 457,000 residents. The next most-populous parishes are Jefferson (440,781), Orleans (383,997), St. Tammany (264,570) and Lafayette (241,753). Each had significant growth over the past decade, and together they account for nearly 40% of the state’s population.
Population changes from 2010 to 2020 also require updating state and local voting districts.
Maps and population statistics introduced Friday show numerous “malapportioned” state House and Senate districts, meaning they have uneven populations compared with their respective ideal populations.
House attorney Lorrianne Lucas explained that ideal populations are “determined by taking the total population of an area being redistricted and dividing by the number of districts.”
The newly determined ideal population for the state House, which involved dividing the entire Louisiana population by 105 House districts, is 44,359 residents. According to a committee document, House districts currently range from 35,887 residents to 59,689 residents.
The ideal population for each state Senate district is 119,429 residents. However, a separate committee document shows a malapportioned range of 102,835 residents to 151,481 residents per 39 Senate districts.
Courts long have held states must act within the principal of equal representation for all citizens when redrawing voting maps, Lucas said, adding that equal protection, equal population and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are legal guideposts.
A coalition of voting rights groups, led by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, submitted written testimony, asserting electoral districts must be drawn to ensure “non-dilution of minority voting strength.”
“Because of Louisiana’s ongoing, stark patterns of voting along racial lines, the heart of evidence of minority vote dilution, your committees must be strictly attentive to their obligations under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to ensure that electoral lines do not dilute the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice,” the written testimony read.
The U.S. Department of Justice said earlier this month it will undertake nationwide reviews of redistricting plans and methods of electing governmental bodies to evaluate compliance with Section 2.
All redistricting information from Friday’s meeting and throughout the redistricting process can be found at redist.legis.la.gov. The next meeting will be held at the University of Louisiana-Monroe on Oct. 20.