Attorney General Leslie Rutledge yesterday approved the form of a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn every 10 years. This is a good
The proposal was submitted by Skip Cook on behalf of Arkansans for Governmental Reform. He’s been active in politics, particularly as a term limits advocate. He’s taking up here an idea that has had growing support around the U.S. — independent districting commissions. They are meant to cure partisan gerrymandering and, in some places, have produced cohesive, geographically sensible district lines that have cut both ways in impact on partisan interests.
The Constitution currently provides that the governor, secretary of state and attorney general comprise the board that draws state legislative districts and the legislature draws congressional districts. The current board members are all Republicans and all seats are on the ballot this year for terms that will run through the next redistricting in 2021. Democrats had a 2-1 edge in 2011 on the board and they held a majority in the legislature for congressional redistricting. (The red tide overcame Democratic efforts to stack the election deck, obviously.) Cook’s proposes to have an independent commission
The Amendment provides that one of the members shall be appointed by the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, one by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, one by the Majority Leader of the Senate, and one by the Minority Leader of the Senate. These four members of the Commission shall choose three additional members of the Commission by majority vote or if the Commission is deadlocked by blind selection from a pool of individuals nominated by each commissioner. No more than four of the members of the Commission shall have any political party affiliation as determined by statewide voter registration and the three members elected by the commissioners shall not be affiliated with any political party as determined by statewide voter registration.
The amendment goes on to set other requirements and disqualifications, the latter including recent elective office or work as a lobbyist or government employee (not including the military).
Districts would be drawn according to population and would have to be “reasonably compact.” Districts could not be drawn to discriminate against any group or party or
I haven’t made a close examination, but an independent commission insulated from overt partisanship is a great idea. Certainly worth talking about. It’s easy to send a ballot initiative to the attorney general. Gathering thousands of signatures of voters to put it on the ballot and then persuading the majority of voters that it’s a good idea (particularly if the party in power fights a loss of expected control of the districting process) are higher hurdles. Cook would have to submit signatures by July of 2020 to get the proposal on the ballot in time for the next round of redistricting.
PS: David Couch, the Little Rock lawyer who’s been active in ballot issue campaigns, said this proposal appears to be similar to one he submitted to Rutledge that gained approval too late in the cycle for petition gathering for this year. He’s continuing to work on resubmitting his proposal, which differs in some respects from Cook’s, with hopes of getting it on the ballot. You might recall that Rutledge rejected Couch’s several times, along with various other proposals. Her ready approval of Cook’s perhaps signal a generally easier time.