Louisiana lawmakers opened the debate on redrawing the state’s legislative districts on Wednesday, as civil rights groups and members of the public continue to push for greater minority representation among elected officials in the state. State.
The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee considered two new maps for the state Senate: one that would add three new black-majority Senate districts and another that would largely maintain the status quo.
Members of the Republican-dominated committee appear poised to advance a proposal by Senate Speaker Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) when it resumes Thursday. But as currently drawn, Cortez’s map would give black voters no new opportunity to send their preferred state senate candidate.
The push to secure a majority-black second congressional district has taken center stage in the run-up to the once-a-decade redistricting process, but civil rights groups have argued that the state legislature is also unbalanced.
Although one-third of the state’s population is black, about one-quarter of the state’s 144 House and Senate seats are held by people of color. A coalition of civil rights groups led by the ACLU of Louisiana said the state should “significantly increase” minority representation to comply with federal voting rights law.
These groups lined up behind SB17 by Sen. Ed Price (D-Gonzales), who proposed adding three minority opportunity districts across the state in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
Even though civil rights groups have called fault, Cortez argued that grouping minority voters into the small number of precincts they currently hold is the best way to ensure that black voters in those precincts can vote safely. safety the candidates of their choice.
He felt that distributing those voters to districts that have a slim majority of minority voters — somewhere in the low 50% range — could dilute minority representation. Because if those districts are more competitive, lower turnout among minority communities could result in fewer minority candidates being elected, Cortez said.
“Fifty percent plus one gives you a majority minority population, but if they only run 30% or 35% and the other population runs 45% or 50% for an election…they won’t elect not the candidate of their choice,” Cortez said. “It’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
Cortez also argued that creating majority-minority districts could cause lawmakers to ignore other “communities of interest” that federal redistricting laws encourage states to keep intact.
“I could draw the card with a heap of 50.1% [majority-Black] districts, but they would go everywhere, they would look like spiders,” Cortez said. “It wouldn’t pass. This would violate all the other principles of communities of interest.
Chris Kaiser of the ACLU of Louisiana said his organization has determined the Senate could add up to four additional black-majority seats while maintaining compact districts. He opposed Cortez’s proposal and hinted that it could spur groups like his to sue.
“Because SB1 fundamentally preserves the status quo, we believe it really does not represent the increase in black representation that we need and would likely violate Section 2 if enacted as is,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser added that he did not share Cortez’s concerns about creating new minority opportunity districts with small black majorities.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires that communities of color have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, which is not a guarantee.
Kaiser said it was up to the legislature to analyze historical voting patterns and turnout trends in communities of color to determine whether or not a district with a narrow black majority would actually result in more black-preferred candidates running. win seats in the state senate.
“If you’re going to argue that we can’t draw an additional majority-minority district because it won’t work as one, then there should be evidence to back that up,” Kaiser said.
The ACLU conducted one such analysis when developing the state legislative maps it submitted to the legislature. Kaiser said his organization had a “high degree of confidence” that the new majority-black Senate districts they were proposing in Baton Rouge, Jefferson Parish and Shreveport — which closely resemble districts proposed by Price — had the potential to produce black preferred candidates. as long as black voters comprised at least 52% of the district’s population.
Each of the proposed new minority opportunity districts in Price’s SB17 had a black population of at least 53%.
“I hope whoever shows up is a hard worker, who can get out there and vote,” Price said. “But if we don’t give this opportunity, we will never know.”
Price’s proposal faces an uncertain future on a committee made up of six Republicans and three Democrats.
The panel of lawmakers agreed to postpone voting on both bills until Thursday to give lawmakers and the public enough time to analyze them.