New state legislative districts submitted to feds

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The plan to redraw Mississippi’s 174 House and Senate districts to match population shifts found by the 2010 census was submitted earlier this week to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.
The Legislature passed the House and Senate plans in early May during the final days of the 2012 session. Before the plans can go into effect, they must meet federal approval to ensure they do not negatively affect minority voting strength.
The delay in submitting the plans was to give private attorneys who consult with the legislative leadership on redistricting time to put together the information to submit to the Justice Department, which will look at issues such as whether the plans “retrogress” in terms of minority voting strength.
“I feel very good about the plan,” said House Apportionment and Elections Chair Bill Denny, R-Jackson, who traveled to Washington last week to meet with Justice Department officials.
Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, who oversaw the Senate’s redistricting effort in 2012, has resigned from the Senate. Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, who handled the effort during the 2011 session, made the trip with Denny in place of Flowers.
The effort to redraw districts failed during the 2011 session because of partisan bickering. Republicans controlled the Senate while the Democrats held a majority in the House. But Republicans took over both chambers this year for the first time since the 1800s.
Many Democrats complained that the plan pushed through by the new Republican majority diluted black voting strength by “packing” black voters in fewer districts. Denny and other Republican leaders denied that claim.
Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, said he and other Democrats would file complaints with the Justice Department. Buck also said the Marshall County Board of Supervisors and the Holly Springs and Byhalia city governments had voted to file objections.
Their objections center on the fact that the Senate plan removes Marshall County from the district it has traditionally shared with Benton and Tippah counties and places it in a district with Tate County.
If the Justice Department rejects either the House or Senate plan, the state can appeal that ruling to federal court.
Last year when the Legislature could not agree on a plan, a three-judge federal panel ordered elections held under the malapportioned districts. The court said it would consider elections this year under new districts if someone raised the issue, but Denny said he has not heard of anyone doing so.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com