Area lawmakers say they hope the process of redrawing the state's six congressional districts to match data from the 2020 Census does not result in the loss of the 5thDistrict, anchored in northeastern Louisiana.
Each 10 years, the state Legislature must use the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau for redistricting—adding or removing districts as well as redrawing district boundaries to match population metrics so that each district has an “ideal,” or equitable, number of voters.
The Legislature has six months to complete redistricting, and Gov. John Bel Edwards has the authority to veto any proposed congressional and legislative district map.
Redistricting has the potential to affect future congressional elections in 2022 as well as legislative elections in 2023.
“The numbers are going to dictate what 5thDistrict is going to look like,” said state Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Sterlington. “Certainly, I want to preserve it as much as we can, but the numbers are what the numbers are going to be. My hope would be that the district would remain as close to the way it looks right now.”
Census data shows Louisiana added some 124,000 residents since the last census in 2010. That means the state will keep its six congressional districts, without adding or removing any of Louisiana's seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Other census data, however, indicated significant population losses in the 4thand 5thcongressional districts as well as population growth in East Baton Rouge, Orleans and Lafayette parishes.
For example, the 4thcongressional district lost 10 to 20 percent of its population while the 5thcongressional lost 5 to 10 percent, having lost some 37,000 residents.
“I hope it's basically the same,” said state Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe. “It will have to be tweaked for sure.”
Several officials have suggested the possibility that northern Louisiana loses one of its two congressional districts. Under such a scenario, northern Louisiana might have one congressional district running east from the Texas-Louisiana border to the Mississippi River.
“I am in favor of the south-running district we have now, instead of a flat district running east to west, and that's what I'm advocating for,” said state Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe. “I am 100 percent in favor of keeping a district that spans along the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge, especially to protect those who are in poverty.”
“Bastrop and Bogalusa, for example, have a lot of similarities, with economic conditions and challenges,” Echols added.
A shift to one northern congressional district also could shake up the political make-up of Louisiana's congressional delegation, if one of northern Louisiana's predominantly Republican districts is lost to a Democratic-leaning area down south.
Meanwhile, legislators held their first redistricting meeting last week during a Joint Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Sept. 17.
During the hearing, lawmakers learned the “ideal” population for a district in the state House of Representatives is 44,000 voters while an “ideal” Senate district contains 119,000 voters.
The committee also presented maps showing “malapportioned” districts, or districts with population apportioned deviating from the ideal numbers.
Of northeastern Louisiana's legislative delegation, Echols and state Rep. Foy Gadberry were the only lawmakers whose districts gained population. Echols' District 14 grew by 10 to 35 percent while Gadberry's District 15's population increased by 5 to 10 percent.
“As we redistrict, we'll probably grow some of the rural districts in land mass, and we may lose some population,” Echols said. “We want to find what's appropriate for our areas.”
State Sen. Katrina Jackson's District 34 lost the most in population with a loss of 10 to 19 percent.
Legislators whose districts lost 5 to 10 percent in population included Cathey (Senate District 33); Sen. Glen Womack (District 32); Rep. Pat Moore (House District 17); Rep. Jack McFarland (House District 13); and House District 16 (vacant).
“I think it's pretty obvious we're all going to have to grow,” Cathey said. “I can't move north. I can only go east, west or south.”
Legislative districts losing less than 5 percent in population included Morris (Senate District 35) and Rep. Neil Riser, R-Columbia (House District 20).
One legislator declined to elaborate on their position about the specific shape of the congressional districts because of concern the Legislature's redistricting could become the subject of litigation.
The Legislature is expected to convene a special legislative session in February 2022 to iron out its redistricting plan. The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to scrutinize all redistricting plans to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
A hearing seeking public input about redistricting is scheduled to occur Wednesday, Oct. 20, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.