A statewide ballot initiative was filed this week to change the state’s redistricting process.

Since 1936, through the Arkansas Constitution, our Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General have acted as the Board of Apportionment to redraw the state’s 100 House and 35 Senate districts every 10 years, based on Federal Census data. Redrawing Congressional Districts is the responsibility of the Arkansas General Assembly.

People Not Politicians (PNP), self described as “a coalition of nonprofit organizations and community allies,” wants to change that with a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a “Citizens’ Redistricting Commission” that would redraw the state House, Senate and U.S. Congressional districts.

“We all know that voters should choose their politicians, but the current system allows politicians to pick their voters. Shifting power back to the people in order to end partisan gerrymandering is an important first step in fixing the problems in our state,” Loriee Evans said in a PNP news release. She is a spokesperson for PNP, and lead organizer for Indivisible of Little Rock & Central Arkansas, one of the member organizations in the coalition. Others include Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Urban League of Arkansas, Citizens First Congress, Arkansas United, Arkansas State Conference NAACP, League of Women Voters of Pulaski County, Arkansas Education Association and Arkansans for a Unified Natural State.

PNP will need to collect 89,151 signatures of registered voters in at least 15 counties to get their initiative on the ballot in November (assuming the courts don’t throw it out for some reason before then).

In the meantime, voters should keep in mind that being nonprofit is not the same as being nonpolitical as a name like People Not Politicians might suggest. I suggest everybody do their homework on the political agenda behind each of these organizations, and most importantly, read the actual ballot initiative. You can find it on the PNP website at www.arpeople.org.

Here’s the eligibility requirements for The Citizens’ Redistricting Commission.

You have to be a registered voter, but you would NOT be eligible to serve if within the preceding five years you were an elected federal, state, city or county official, or if you had served as an appointed federal or state official, a registered lobbyist, an officer of a political party or an employee of a registered lobbyist, political party, political campaign committee, or political action committee.

Five years!? I had no idea political loyalty and/or influence evaporates so quickly. Not only that, but anyone who was the spouse, child, parent or sibling, by blood or marriage, of any of those folks would be ineligible to serve as well (until five years had passed).

How are they picked?

Well, that would fall to a three-person panel picked by the Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court from retired Justices of the Supreme Court, or retired Court of Appeals or Circuit Court judges. Although our judges are elected in nonpartisan elections, that doesn’t mean there’s no politics involved.

The Secretary of State would advertise statewide for the opportunity to serve on the Commission and develop an application. The application requires those filling it out to state (under penalty of perjury) that they are eligible to serve as a Commissioner, and that they give their address, political party affiliation, or lack of political party affiliation, age, gender and race or ethnicity.

No later than April 1 following a federal census, “the panel shall by majority decision select thirty eligible applicants from each of the following three pools: one pool of applicants affiliated with the political party having the largest number of representatives in the General Assembly, one pool of applicants affiliated with the political party having the second-largest number of representatives in the General Assembly, and one pool of applicants affiliated with other political parties or no political party.”

Belonging to a political party other than the two major parties – Republicans or Democrats – is NOT the same thing as being affiliated with NO political party. In the interest of full disclosure, I voted Democratic, Republican, AND Libertarian in our last election, but that doesn’t make me nonpolitical.

Anyway, the people in these “pools” are supposed to be picked “insofar as possible” to be representative geographically and demographically of the state population. The panel will publish the names of each of the applicants under consideration, and then the Governor, the state House and Senate leaders for the majority party, and the state House and Senate leaders of the minority party each get to eliminate up to two people from the list of applicants. If each does eliminate two people, that reduces the list of applicants to 20.

The initiative states that approval of a final district map requires six or more affirmative votes of the Commissioners, including at least two affirmative votes from Commissioners selected from each of the three pools.

Good luck with that!

All other actions of the Commission would require six or more affirmative votes of the Commissioners.

Yes, politicians are responsible for drawing our political districts, and they’ve been picked by the people to do so for a long time.

Contact Steve Gillespie at editor@paragoulddailypress.com.

Contact Steve Gillespie at editor@paragoulddailypress.com.

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