The Arkansas Board of Apportionment today approved new boundaries for the Legislature that decrease the number of majority black districts in the state House, reports the AP.
The board, which is made up of Gov. Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Secretary of State Mark Martin voted along party lines 2-1 in favor of Beebe’s plan, with no debate or discussion. Democrats Beebe and McDaniel voted for the plan while Martin, a Republican, cast the no vote.
Beebe’s plan reduces the number of majority black House districts from 13 to 11 and maintains four majority black Senate districts. Martin’s plan would have increased the number of majority black districts to 15.
Beebe and McDaniel have argued that increasing the number of majority-black districts could dilute the African-American vote in other majority white districts.
“We had to lose, according to our information, two of the 13 African-American House districts simply because of the population changes and the population shifts,” Beebe told reporters after the vote.
Martin and some black lawmakers have said they’re worried cutting the districts will take away from the voice African Americans have in the Legislature.
“I don’t think it was necessary and I think it may have disenfranchised African American voters,” Martin said.
The maps approved Friday create four House districts where non-term limited incumbents would be placed in the same district, but avoided putting any together in the Senate.
All three avoided putting non-term limited incumbents in the same district, but create four House districts where incumbents would face against each other, McDaniel’s would create three and Martin’s proposal would create two.
None of the three proposed a majority-Hispanic district, despite a push by some to create one in the northwestern part of the state. The region has seen a rapid increase in its Hispanic population in recent years.
The state’s black population is 15.4 percent and its Hispanic population is 6.4 percent. Black lawmakers hold 11 seats in the state House and four in the Senate.
Democrats now hold a 55-45 majority in the state House and a 20-15 majority in the Senate, but Republicans say they believe they have their best opportunity next year to win a majority in one or both chambers. During the November elections, Republicans won the most seats in the Legislature since Reconstruction and now hold three of the state’s seven constitutional offices.