The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Grassroots Partners Need to Weigh in on Redistricting to Avoid "Gerrymandering" and Assure Voting Rights, August 2021

Posted on August 19, 2021 at 04:23 PM

Congressional redistricting is a vital issue and all grassroots advocates need to stay informed about these issues and call for electoral districts that are fundamentally democratic in nature.

The Delta Caucus partners need to get informed about this as it receives increasing attention over the next six to nine months across our region.

This will be an important issue for the Delta Caucus now through the Nov. 18-19 conference either by Zoom or in Little Rock and into early next year.

There will always be some discretion involved, and many politicians will try to inject partisanship into this process. There is no one size fits all approach, but there are some basic principles, including:

1) Congressional districts are supposed to have equal populations to the extent possible.

2) Districts should be geographically contiguous to the extent possible. A district that has “fingers” and odd shapes winding all over the map may be an effort to dilute minority votes or otherwise tamper with democratic principles.

3) Districts cannot be “gerrymandered” to reduce the representation of minority voters. Examples of this are placing areas with substantial minority voters in different districts so that their votes are diluted in all of them.

4) Redistricting should be done in a way that permits voters of all demographic types to have their voices heard in the electoral process.

States generally develop their redistricting plans late in 2021 or early in 2022. Concerned citizens have the right to weigh in with their views in this process.

Please get informed about redistricting in your state at the Congressional as well as state levels and make your voice heard to each state’s decision makers in the redistricting process.

The Delta areas make up substantial parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, smaller parts of Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama, and southern Illinois. Everybody has a democratic right to take part in this process in the district and state where they live.

In Arkansas, here are some basic changes in population in Arkansas as revealed in the census:

1)Northwest Arkansas gained much more in population than any of the other three districts, and so will have to lose some areas.

2) The rural east Arkansas First District and rural south and west Arkansas Fourth District lost population and will have to add areas.

3) The central Arkansas Second District, including Little Rock and several more suburban or rural counties, only gained slightly and should not change much.

A logical and fair result is that a geographically contiguous county (or whatever area is needed to make the four districts as equal as possible geographically) in the northwest Arkansas district should be added to the southern and western Fourth District, and similarly another northwest Arkansas district county should be added to the First District. The First and Fourth have to expand and the northwest has to contract.

In previous redistricting debates, the Delta Caucus has asserted that there should be one predominantly “Delta” district–in the sense of being mostly rural, agricultural and diverse–and that has historically been the First District. However, if the constitutional redistricting principles require a somewhat different result, of course those principles will have to be followed.

An initial view regarding the First District: Other reasonable suggestions might be considered, but the initial view is that the First District will likely need to add Marion County or another area in northern Arkansas that is currently part of the northwest AR district.

It would be difficult for the First District to add any area in the south and west because the Fourth District needs to expand as well. It would also be difficult to expand very much into the Second District, which should not change much because its population did not change much.

This process is fluid and we need to remain open to alternative plans: There are always a number of possible different configurations of how the four Congressional districts should be drawn up. We should analyze all suggestions and come up with a districting plan that follows principles of being reasonably contiguous, avoids any dilution of minority voters, have as equal populations as possible, and promotes the basic principles of participation in the democratic process.

Note: We should avoid and oppose any effort to push a redistricting plan for short-term, political advantage. Aside from violating the spirit if not the letter of the law, such efforts are counterproductive because political winds change all the time and what seems like a political advantage for one party or faction now might turn out to be a disadvantage at any point over the 10-year districting periods.

Political and demographic trends change over time and could make Democrats viable in one or two of the Arkansas Congressional Districts some years now, or the Republican domination of all districts may continue–it’s just unpredictable. We have to be nonpartisan about this.

The Second District has had somewhat closer results in recent years, and if Hispanic votes and others increase or change, this could lead to different outcomes. The northwest Arkansas district has a substantial Hispanic voting element that may increase, and population gains in the northwesternmost part of that district could change the equation.

Lessons learned from the redistricting after the 2010 census:

**A classic example of an ill-advised gerrymander was the effort to create a “Fayetteville finger” to add a narrow area extending far north and west of most of the Fourth District to add that to the Fourth in an effort to assist the Democrats–and especially then Congressman Mike Ross–to be re-elected.

This was pointless on multiple grounds: that district as a whole was trending strongly in a Republican direction, Congressman Ross had plans to run for governor and thus was not going to try to remain as Fourth District US Representative for the long term, and the gerrymandered, oddly shaped “Fayetteville finger” was a patent violation of democratic principles of resdistricting. It was of course rejected.

During that debate, the First District needed to gain ground, and could have done so either by adding territory in southeast Arkansas that was rural, mostly agricultural and diverse and broadly similar to most of the rest of the First District, or adding territory in the northwest Arkansas area that was hilly, much less diverse and not similar to most of the rest of the First District.

Delta Caucus partners at the time testified at hearings at the Arkansas State Capitol that the First District should expand into similar areas like Desha and Chicot counties to preserve the First District as the fundamental “Delta district” in Arkansas, rather than adding areas far to the north and farther west. This was the outcome at that time and we believe it was the correct one.

Today we should be careful to oppose any effort that would add areas in the Second District with substantial minority voters to one of the other districts that are less diverse. This would dilute black voting impact in the Second District without any increased impact in other districts. The overall impact would be an impermissible discrimination against black voters.


In the current environment there are complications from US Supreme Court’s controversial 5-4 decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, 2019 and other decisions restricting voting rights: In this case the US Supreme Court deviated from previous precedents and ruled that partisan gerrymandering was fine, but of course could not deviate from the constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination that would dilute the impact of minority voters.

The Court ruled that it could not hear lawsuits challenging discrimination against parties–whether Democrat, Republican, Green or whatever–because that would violate the principle that the court cannot get involved in political questions.

The obvious problem with this ruling is that when gerrymandering efforts are made against one party that has the great majority of the minority voters’ support, the party supporting the gerrymander may very well be engaging in racial discrimination but will claim that they are doing so for political partisan reasons.

Over the course of American history, both parties have engaged in efforts at times to restrict voting of minorities. In the 1950s and 1960s, Southern segregationist Democrats sought to use any means they could–including gerrymandering electoral districts so that African Americans would be outvoted in every one of the districts. In more recent years, it has been Republicans who have sought to dilute African American voting impact.

Of course Republicans today will claim that they are not trying to dilute black votes, but only to enhance Republican votes at the expense of Democrats. In the earlier era, segregationist Democrats used various arguments to effectively undermine black votes.

The Rucho decision was wrongly decided and it can be hoped that it will be overturned if one vote on the Court changes in the future. As of now it is the law of the land, since the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.

The decision confuses the “political question” concept (that the Court does not decide strictly political questions) with the concept that the Supreme Court has to act as the objective umpire to make sure that the electoral process is functioning properly and thus allowing all voters to have their voices heard. This is the venerable principle of “political process theory.” The US Supreme Court most assuredly does have the jurisdiction to decide issues as to whether the electoral process is functioning in a democratic manner.

The current majority on the Court thus discarded a fundamental principle going back to 1938, when Justice Harlan Fiske Stone (who was a Republican, by the way) wrote in US v. Caroline Products that the Court would apply heightened scrutiny to laws or statutes that conflict with Bill of Rights protections where the political process has closed or is malfunctioning, and when regulations adversely affect “discrete and insular minorities.”

The Warren Court and subsequent Supreme Court decisions built upon this concept to uphold voting rights and other individual rights when the political process was malfunctioning.

The solution, of course, is not to permit dilution of minority votes in all cases.

Please have your voices heard and oppose any effort to dress up what is really a racially disciminatory voting scheme into just a political partisan effort to support one party over another.

In Mississippi, the current districting seems likely to stay the same, with Congressman Bennie Thompson’s district likely to remain majority Democratic and the others majority Republican.

There are other situations in the other states. Please advise as to what the situation is there for our information and contact your elected officials.