The Mississippi Legislature’s problem with its most recent makeover of House and Senate districts was that the politics was so paramount it prevented a timely resolution.
Districts must be drawn after every decennial census to account for population shifts and make them roughly equal in population. The 2011 Legislature had that task, but it dropped the ball when the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate couldn’t agree.
The 2011 election proceeded anyway under the old districts that had greater population inequity than the law allows.
The situation got less complicated when Republicans won control of both houses in those elections. With GOP control of both chambers, Republicans had no difficulty getting a plan to their liking passed in the 2012 session.
Democrats didn’t like it, though. They claimed it diluted minority voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act by packing minorities into fewer districts, even though the number of majority black districts increased.
But the Obama administration’s Justice Department approved both the House and Senate plans, and the only remaining remedy for opponents was to file a lawsuit in federal court.
That’s what the NAACP did recently. They want new elections held, and they want a three-judge panel to draw new districts. On Thursday, the joint House-Senate Redistricting Committee voted to intervene in opposition to the NAACP move.
As with all redistricting plans, this one bears the imprint of the majority. It is as favorable to Republicans as it can be and still meet the legal and constitutional criteria. It would have been the same way if the other side were in control.
But a political tilt isn’t enough to disqualify a plan, and the last thing Mississippi needs right now is an extra election. Municipal elections are on tap for next year, and that’s enough.
It isn’t ideal that the current Legislature serves from malapportioned districts. But the expense and confusion that a special election in 2013 – two years ahead of the next scheduled elections – would entail make that a bad idea.