Enemies of a new voting card gather at the Capitol

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Cheers and chants rang out from the State Capitol rotunda on Thursday as voting rights advocates gathered to denounce Arkansas’ recently passed congressional redistribution plan.

More than 100 people, including leaders of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus and the state’s Democratic Party, who called the map the Legislature passed last week as blatant racial gerrymandering, attended and applauded the speakers.

Laws 1114 and 1116 redraw the state’s congressional districts in accordance with U.S. census data, which lawmakers are required to do every 10 years. The plan divides the most populous county in the state into three congressional districts, moving 21,000 black residents of Pulaski County from the 2nd Congressional District to the 1st and 4th Districts.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Wednesday he would let the bills become law without his signature.

The lines separate majority minority areas of the county, as well as the towns of Little Rock and North Little Rock, from much of central Arkansas, a move that rally speakers say is designed to dilute power. black and brown votes. Arkansane.

“Who is just as upset with these unfair cards as I am?” Debrah Mitchell, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus, asked the crowd.

[ARKANSAS MAP: Interactive state and Pulaski County maps not appearing above? Click here » arkansasonline.com/2021maps/]

Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Grant Tennille said he saw people at the rally who “have been fighting this fight since 1965 and before.”

“It is an injustice, and it is not new,” he said.

Senator Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said the present time reminded her of the 1960s, when “we had to fight like h* * * to get what we needed. “

“We have to fight like h* * * now, ”she said.

Several speakers noted that Arkansas is the only southern state that has never elected a black member of Congress and that the new card would ensure that does not happen.

“It’s no accident that it didn’t happen in Arkansas, it’s intentional,” Phillips County attorney James Valley said.

Supporters of the bills said they did not gerrymandering and did not take race into account when drawing the lines, touting the map as one that brings together the four districts of the same population as possible.

Some lawmakers have said Pulaski County is a natural place to draw the lines due to its population and location, but those who opposed the bills said there was no need to divide a county in order to draw a good map.

Opponents of the redistribution plan have promised there will be litigation.

“This fight is not over. We are going to court. We are going to fight and we are going to scream until they fix things,” Tennille said.

Tennille said in an interview afterwards that there would likely be multiple groups involved in a lawsuit and the party would play a role, but details and timing were still being worked out. As the division laws were not passed with an emergency clause, they come into force 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

Another means of action to prevent the implementation of the redistribution plan is a constitutional veto referendum. If 54,000 signatures are collected within 90 days of adjourning the session, the measure can be put on the November 2022 ballot for voters to decide.

Kwami Abdul-Bey, founder of Arkansans for a Unified Natural State, said he believes the group could get the signatures needed for the effort in two to three weeks.

“There is no Civil Rights Army parachuting into Little Rock to help us with this,” Abdul-Bey said. “No one is going to save us. We have to save ourselves.”

Hutchinson, a Republican, said he did not veto redistribution bills because he was relying on the prerogative of the General Assembly because the U.S. Constitution grants redistribution power to state legislatures, but that he was concerned about the impact of the card on minority populations.

The State Senate Republican Caucus responded to Hutchinson’s comments and criticism from the State Democratic Party on the map in a statement Thursday, rejecting “any notion that the Congress map passed by the legislature is not in line with Supreme Court case law.

“If Governor Hutchinson had genuine concerns, he could have raised them at any point in the process. This card is legal and the courts will uphold it,” the statement said on behalf of the 27 GOP members of the chamber.

The caucus noted that this year marks the first time Republicans have drawn the map of Congress since the Reconstruction Era.

“For 140 years, the Democrats have had complete control of the redistribution process. During this time, they have continued to gerrymander cards and divide several counties in an attempt to secure political power. Now they are choosing to cry out. scandal over a map that divides fewer counties than the maps they drew, ”the statement read.

The current maps, which were drawn in 2011, divide five counties among congressional districts. The new map splits in two, the other being Sebastian County.

Republicans do not depend on a redistribution process to win an election, “unlike Democrats,” they said.

“We will continue to earn the trust of the Arkansans by ensuring that our platform reflects their beliefs and values. This is why Republicans have consistently won in the ridings drawn by Democrats,” the caucus said.

Francha Anderson (left) and Janie Allen sign a constitutional veto referendum petition against recently passed congressional redistricting bills at Thursday’s rally on the State Capitol. If 54,000 signatures are collected within 90 days of adjourning the session, the measure can be put to the November 2022 ballot. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)


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