Census data in hand, legislators work on redistricting

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Now that the state has received census data from the federal government, work will begin in earnest on redrawing the state’s 52 Senate and 122 House districts.
The state received the data Thursday, and House Apportionment and Elections Chair Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, said work already has started to convert the data to the form necessary to undertake what many believe will be a contentious redistricting process.
“We are going to be working to show the numbers to the people,” said Reynolds. “We will have them in a usable form in a week.
“Then, we will sit down and come up with something … to craft reasonable districts.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, said he and Elections Chair Terry Burton, R-Newton, also will review the census data.
“I remain committed to reforming the redistricting process to ensure that a plan is developed through an open manner with public input, giving communities fair representation, splitting as few precincts as possible, and drawing districts that respect historical boundaries and are geographically compact,” Bryant said.
People can obtain census data at four pubic hearings the Legislative Redistricting Committee has planned in the coming days. The first will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the University of Mississippi’s Johnson Commons Ballroom in Oxford. The other three will follow in Jackson, Itta Bena and Perkinston.
Reynolds said data can be obtained at the public meetings or on the state redistricting website, www.msjrc.state.ms.us.
The Mississippi Legislature is required by federal law to redraw its districts and the state’s U.S. House districts every 10 years to adhere to population shifts found by the census.
The Legislature will be working quickly this year to redraw its districts and get the changes approved by the U.S. Department of Justice in time to hold party primary elections in August. Plus, some fear the process could be bogged down because of partisan conflicts.
By the very nature of the process, there will be political winners and losers from the redistricting efforts. Some current legislators most likely will be thrown into the same districts.
Various groups have been demanding that the Legislature reduce the number of split precincts. Jim Herring, former chairman of the state Republican Party and now with Mississippians for Fair Redistricting, said about 25 percent of the state’s roughly 2,000 precincts were split in the 2000 plan.
Reynolds said in 2000 the U.S. Census Bureau could not provide the state data broken down by precincts because many of Mississippi’s precincts do not follow natural boundaries. The Census Bureau is supposed to be able to provide more precise precinct data this time.
Federal law requires the districts to be as close in population “as practicable.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.