Senate expected to unveil redistricting plan today; vote tomorrow

JACKSON — Mississippi Senate leaders plan to reveal redistricting plans for the chamber this afternoon, with the intention of asking the full Senate to approve the map tomorrow.

Republican Sen. Merle Flowers, of Southaven, is redistricting chairman for the 52-member chamber. He said Monday that the proposed new map should make most senators happy.

“I think we will post a large number on the votes,” Flowers told The Associated Press.

He also said he believes the map will be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which checks to ensure that the new districts don’t dilute minority voting strength.

Legislative districts have to be updated after every Census to reflect population changes of the previous decade. Between 2000 and 2010, there was significant growth in Flowers’ home base of DeSoto County, which is just south of Memphis, Tenn. Population also grew in the suburbs around the capital city of Jackson, while it decreased in Jackson itself. Parts of the rural and economically struggling Delta also lost population.

The 122-member House approved its own new map last week, and that awaits Senate consideration.

The House also must approve the Senate plan.

Legislators debated redistricting for several weeks in 2011 without agreeing on plans. At the time, Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats controlled the House. The GOP won control of both chambers in the November general election.

The lawmakers who worked on redistricting in 2011 had more flexibility to rearrange the maps because several members of the House and Senate were retiring or running for other offices. With open seats, the chairmen didn’t have to think as much about avoiding hurting the feelings of colleagues who might see their districts dramatically rearranged or even collapsed to make way for new districts in high-growth areas.

“The stakes were a little bit higher this year,” Flowers said, noting that he’s dealing with 52 senators who, at this point, all intend to seek re-election.

Mississippi’s population is 37 percent black. Its voting-age population is 35 percent black.

The Senate currently has 12 majority-black districts, or 24 percent of the 52 seats. A Senate plan the ultimately failed in 2011, drawn by a different Republican chairman, would have increased that to 15 seats, or 29 percent.

According to criteria adopted by the redistricting committee, the number of residents of each new House and Senate district must be no more than 5 percent higher or 5 percent lower than the ideal population. The ideal population for a new Senate district is 57,063.

The redistricting committee’s website shows the most underpopulated current Senate district is District 12, in parts of Bolivar and Washington counties, which has 13,491 fewer residents than it needs. The district, which is majority-black, is represented by Democratic Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville.

The most overpopulated current Senate district is the current District 19, which is entirely within DeSoto County and is represented by Flowers. It is majority-white and has 25,931 more residents than it needs.

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