Home Census Benton County legislative districts are severely overcrowded and under-represented, board figures show

Benton County legislative districts are severely overcrowded and under-represented, board figures show


BENTONVILLE – Arkansas’ three most crowded state house districts are all in Benton County, according to information presented by the state council responsible for drafting new legislative boundaries.

The most crowded state Senate district is also in Benton County, according to estimates.

The state dispatch board will attempt to draw new legislative districts as close to equal population as possible, staff said in a public hearing held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Northwest Arkansas Community College. This will mean 100 State House districts with approximately 30,000 residents each. The 35 districts of the state Senate will number approximately 85,000 each.

Three House districts in Benton County have grown so much since the last time the boundaries were redrawn, they each have at least 38,000 people now, according to the best estimate released Thursday. These are Districts 90, 91 and 93. Senate District 1, also in Benton County, has an estimated population of 113,508.

The District 90 Chamber member is Representative Kendon Underwood, R-Cave Springs. District 91 is Representative Delia Haak, R-Centerton. District 93 is Representative Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville. Senate District 1 is represented by Senator Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs.

The job of the dispatch board is to redraw legislative districts every 10 years, using federal census data to ensure that each district has roughly the same population. The council consists of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state. Betty Dickey, dispatch council coordinator and former chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, chaired Thursday’s meeting, one of a series of public hearings across the state to hear residents’ demands and answer questions.

Dustin Seaton of Fayetteville asked panel staff at the hearing if they would consider future growth. If the lines are drawn with equal populations, he said, high-growth areas would be overcrowded and, therefore, under-represented again in a few years.

The board won’t cut districts from high-growth areas now, as equal representation after the census is required by the state’s constitution, replied Shelby Johnson, the state’s head of geographic information. “That’s what our constitution says,” he said.

Jon Moran of Rogers was on the staff of Governor Mike Beebe when the district was last drawn in 2011, after the 2010 census. He said the courts allowed differences of up to 5% in the population when the district was first drawn. drawing of districts. Council staff responded that in these Arkansas cases it was sometimes permitted by court order to compensate for past racial discrimination by strengthening minority representation.

Legislative district boundaries are redrawn after each US census. The census takes place every 10 years. Census Bureau estimates show that northwest Arkansas has grown in population while it has shrunk in other areas of the state. Thus, the northwest of the state will gain seats while other parts of the state will lose some or remain stable. The 100 House Districts and 35 Senate Districts are redesigned with the goal of having an equal population in each.

To draw district boundaries, you need detailed census data and maps showing where people live. Difficulties with the census during the pandemic, as well as legal battles over attempts to include citizenship status in census questions have delayed the count for months. The US Census Bureau announced earlier Thursday that the redistribution number would be available for states on Thursday of next week.

“We are six months behind due to the census delay,” Dickey told the hearing of at least 30 people who attended Thursday’s hearing.

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