News from Ohio that might have some interest here in Arkansas: On Tuesday, voters approved Issue 1 by a huge majority — 75 percent to 25 percent — to amend the state constitution to create new rules in the congressional redistricting process to limit gerrymandering. Here’s a breakdown over at Vox on all the reforms that the measure would enact.
Could a similar measure pass in Arkansas? Little Rock attorney David Couch thinks so. He has submitted a proposal for a ballot initiative that would allow voters to amend the constitution on both congressional and legislative redistricting (the proposal has been rejected three times by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge; Couch is re-submitting and considering a legal challenge if Rutledge’s blockade continues).
Couch — the Little Rock attorney who has campaigned for more than 20 ballot initiatives and authored the medical marijuana amendment that voters passed in 2016 — proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would establish a “Citizens’ Redistricting Commission” consisting of seven members. The members of the commission would be chosen by the Majority and Minority Leaders in the House of Representatives and the Majority and Minority Leaders in the Senate, each choosing one member. Those commission members would then choose three additional members by majority vote (if deadlocked, they would have a blind selection from a pool of individuals nominated by each commissioner). None of these three additional members could have any political party affiliation, as determined by their voter registration.
Couch told me that a private poll he solicited, surveying 500 likely November 2018 voters statewide in Arkansas, found that 64 percent were in favor of such a Citizens Commission, 38 percent were opposed, and 11 percent were undecided.
Redistricting occurs every ten years, along with the U.S. Census. It’s an important issue: Partisan gerrymandering (yes, both sides do it when they’re in power) can lead to funky-shaped districts in Arkansas and elsewhere that seem counter to the spirit of a representative democracy. Couch’s proposal might produce a more fair system, and it would be a popular idea if his poll is to be believed. But it would face fierce opposition from Republican politicians, because it would reduce the power currently held by the GOP officeholders who are set to have total control of redistricting in 2020. Under current law, the “Board of Apportionment” — consisting of the governor, the secretary of state, and the attorney general — draw the maps for the 100 House districts and 35 Senate districts. The General Assembly redraws the maps for the state’s four Congressional districts.
Because Republicans control the levers of power, they can draw the maps however they want. They might even be motivated to keep a proposal like Couch’s from ever reaching the ballot. One of the Republican officeholders who gets to redraw the maps under current law, by the way, is Leslie Rutledge.