Arkansas Lawmakers OK Election Map Splitting Pulaski County


Arkansas Lawmakers OK Election Map Splitting Pulaski County
The Arkansas Capitol. Lawmakers have sent the governor a new congressional map that splits Pulaski County between three districts. (Lance Turner)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers on Thursday sent the governor a congressional redistricting plan that critics say weakens the influence of minority voters in the Little Rock area by splitting the state's most populous county among three U.S. House districts.

The measure splits portions of Pulaski County, a heavily Democratic county that includes Little Rock, between the 1st, 2nd and 4th congressional districts. The county is currently in the 2nd District, which Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to flip in recent years.

Republicans hold all four of the state's U.S. House seats and a majority of both chambers of the state Legislature.

Democrats have criticized the plan for moving predominantly Black and Hispanic precincts out of the 2nd District and accused Republicans of trying make a GOP district even redder. Arkansas is the only former Confederate state that has not elected a Black member of the U.S. House.

"It's going to disenfranchise African American communities, regardless of the intent," Rep. Fred Love, a Democrat from Little Rock, said before the House approved the measure.

Supporters of the plan say splitting Pulaski County makes sense given its location in the middle of the state. They also say it helps limits the number of counties split up.

Opponents of splitting up counties have said it divides up communities and their interests.

Sebastian County in west Arkansas is the only other county in the redistricting plan that's divided between districts, a move that also drew opposition from Republican lawmakers in the area.

The state's current map splits five counties.

"You've got come up with as equal a distribution in the congressional districts as possible. That was achieved," Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, who chairs the Senate State Agencies Committee, said after the vote. "Some will like, some will not. In this case, most in the body favors what we have."

The Senate approved the bill on a 21-12 vote, while the House approved an identical measure 53-35.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he's reviewing the redistricting proposal and will make a decision next week on whether to sign it. The governor has five days once the bill reaches his desk, not counting Sunday, to sign or veto the bill before it becomes law without his signature.

On Wednesday, Hutchinson cautioned that lawmakers should avoid diluting the influence and representation of racial minorities in congressional districts.

The state's redistricting process is controlled by Republicans, who won control of the Legislature in 2012 and have held all statewide offices since 2015.

Redistricting of the state's 100 House and 35 Senate seats will be handled later this fall by the state Board of Apportionment. That panel is comprised of the governor, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston, all Republicans.