WEBPAGE: For group hoping to change redistricting procedures in Arkansas.

Paperwork was filed today to start a campaign to amend the Arkansas Constitution to create a non-partisan commission to draw legislative and congressional districts.

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The group, Arkansas Voters First, is led by Bonnie Miller of the League of Women Voters and Republican State Rep. Dan Douglas of Bentonville.  There’s been talk of this proposal for months and similar efforts have been mounted in other states.

Currently, the legislature after each Census draws congressional districts and a committee controlled by partisan politicians draws legislative districts.

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The amendment would establish a 9-member commission of non-politicians. Lobbyists would be banned. The key elements:

Commissioner selection is administered by a panel of three retired judges selected by the Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court;
• The commission must be equally divided between Republicans, Democrats and Independent voters;
• The Governor and legislative leadership will both have the right to strike no more than two applicants from the pool of thirty to be considered by the panel of judges.

• The Commission will be prohibited from favoring or disfavoring any political party or elected official and will be bound by conventional criteria including compactness, contiguity, and preserving communities of interest.
• All work performed by the commission will be subject to open records laws and committee hearings will take place in public;
• Plans are approved when six of the nine commissioners are signed on.
States across the country have seen politicized redistricting processes result in highly partisan districts that overwhelmingly benefit incumbency—meaning career politicians and entrenched special interests.

Miller is chair of the ballot question committee. T.J. Boyle and Brett Kincaid are also officers.

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The group has not filed a financial statement yet, but a spokesman said one would be filed later this month. He said the group would focus on raising financial support from Arkansas citizens but said an unspecified amount of seed money to begin paid canvassing is expected from Action Now, a non-profit devoted to racial, economic and social justice. It is supported by the Arnold Foundation, led by a wealthy Houston couple, Laura and John Arnold. 

If the measure reaches the ballot (more than 89,000 signatures of registered voters distributed across Arkansas must be gathered by July) and is approved in November, it would guide redistricting following this year’s Census in 2021. Republicans, now in control of the legislature and the majority of seats on the commission that does legislative districting, can be expected to resist losing that power. Corporate lobbies, which exert control over elected officials with campaign contributions, can also expect to oppose the idea of fair districting procedures. Polling generally shows approval for the idea of removing the drawing of boundary lines from the political process.

From the group’s news release:

Under current law, Politicians and lobbyists are permitted to meet behind closed doors to carve up the states voting districts. It has historically produced oddly shaped maps that serve the powerful but not the people.

Arkansas Voters First simply believes the process should be fair for everyone. It removes the inherent conflict that exists when legislators draw their own districts.

States across the country have seen politicized redistricting processes result in highly partisan districts that overwhelmingly benefit incumbency—meaning career politicians and entrenched special interests.

Many of the most high-profile redistricting battles – in states including Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Maryland – have led to costly and contentious court fights that take years to resolve.

“This is a grassroots campaign to ensure Arkansas voters have the ability to hold our elected leaders accountable through a process that is open, fair and transparent,” said Bonnie Miller of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas. “We view partisan gerrymandering as the biggest threat to democracy that
we face today.”

“Extreme partisanship has made Arkansans lose faith in the political process”, said Arkansas State Representative Dan Douglas (R-Bentonville). “Independent redistricting, taking it out of the hands of the lobbyists and the politicians, is a good first step toward restoring faith in our state government.”

For additional Information, go to www.arvotersfirst.org or contact George Shelton at info@arvotersfirst.org. They’ll alsoi be on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @ARvotersfirst.

Here’s the full text of the proposal filed with the Secretary of State by David Couch, the Little Rock lawyer who’s been talking up the proposal for months

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