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Public Statements

Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Arkansas's Political Geography

Statement

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Over the next few months, the geography of Arkansas politics will change. It may change who is on our ballots when we vote for our representatives in the state legislature. But this process of redistricting also allows us to have a say in the matter.

Every 10 years, new U.S. census data reveals population shifts within each state. Congressional and legislative districts must then be re-balanced to reflect those changes and preserve the fair representation of citizens. During the recent legislative session, the General Assembly re-drew our four Congressional districts. Now, attention has shifted to adjusting the 35 senate districts and 100 house districts in the Arkansas legislature and making them equable.

The duty of redistricting in the State falls to the Board of Apportionment, comprised of the Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State. The Board has hired a director, who works with the staffs of all three offices to draft maps and collect public feedback. Since redistricting takes place only once a decade, there are now technological innovations to improve the process and make it more efficient than before. Ten years ago, it was October before the new district maps were finalized. We are aiming this time to finish redistricting by the end of July.

However, even with an accelerated timeline, the Board of Apportionment wants to gather public input from people throughout Arkansas. Hearings across the State have already begun and will continue throughout June and early July. After the feedback from those hearings is collected, additional maps will be released. There will then be time for public comment on those maps before any final vote is taken. You can find a list of the scheduled public hearings and a lot more information online at arkansasredistricting.org. We have heard from communities, public officials and citizens, telling us what they would like to see and what they would not like to see in the new maps.

Legislative districts will follow population shifts, meaning that more rapidly growing parts of the State will see additional districts in their region. This will mean fewer districts in areas where fewer people now live. In recent years, we've seen a general population shift from the southeast part of Arkansas toward the northwest. The challenge is to draw these districts in ways that are legally sound while still trying to keep the representation of communities intact when possible.

Whatever the final result, we know that some people will be happy, and others will be upset. Every time new maps are adopted, there are legal challenges, and we fully expect to see lawsuits this time, too. The Board of Apportionment's job is to draw maps that will sustain legal scrutiny and maintain fair representation for our people. I'm confident we'll be able to do that.

Re-drawing legislative districts based on shifting populations is admittedly not the most interesting topic for a lot of Arkansans. But it is a very important part of our representative government. I encourage you to educate yourselves about the process and take advantage of the opportunity to contribute your own input. While three elected officials comprise the Board of Apportionment, it is a process that involves far more voices, including yours, if you want to be heard.


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