Louisiana political districts will have to undergo drastic changes, legislative staff says

Census data shows most Louisiana districts out of proportion

By: - September 19, 2021 7:15 am
State lawmakers to hold first public forum on redistricting in Monroe

Legislative Research Analyst Patricia Lowrey-Dufour, center, presents redistricting data to the Joint Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

In a process that will impact every state-level and congressional election in Louisiana for the next decade, lawmakers met Friday for the first of what will be many redistricting sessions in which legislators draw new maps that determine which voters to include in their districts and other statewide political boundaries. 

The Legislature’s Joint Governmental Affairs Committee began the meeting by reviewing the rules and the population data it will use to draw new statewide political seats for Congress, the state legislature, Public Service Commission, state Supreme Court and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

Patricia Lowrey-Dufour, the committee’s senior research analyst, told the lawmakers that they should expect significant changes to their districts. 

“As you can see from this map, the chances of any district remaining untouched by redistricting are probably zero, so just be aware,” she said. “I want you to be aware that redistricting is all about change, and as you can see if you look to your left and your right for your neighboring districts, you can see that there will have to be substantial changes made.”

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Lowrey-Dufour was referring to maps she presented showing population disparities among the state House districts. The recent 2020 census found significant population shifts across the state with many rural areas losing residents to urban and suburban districts. Such shifts have resulted in malapportionment — a term used to describe inequitable political districts, in which some have significantly higher populations than others.   

One of the primary rules for redistricting is that districts should have largely equal populations with a deviation of no more than 5% for state districts except those of the state Supreme Court. Legislation that would have required equal populations and expanded the number of state Supreme Court districts to offer more minority representation failed to pass last session. The rules are also slightly different for Congressional districts, which have to be as even as possible but don’t follow a strict percentage rule like that which applies to the state districts. 

Of the 105 Louisiana House districts, 29 had too many constituents and 37 had too few constituents — meaning 46 will have to be redrawn.

And redrawing just one district has a ripple effect across the entire map because it changes the boundaries of adjacent districts, Lowrey-Dufour said.

Similarly, the Louisiana Senate will also see many changes. Of the 39 Senate districts, 10 had too many constituents, and 15 had too few constituents, Lowrey-Dufour said.

But some of the most significant disparities are in the state Supreme Court districts, where all except District 2 are outside of the acceptable population deviation — some by as much as 25%.

Half of all eight BESE districts also have either too many or too few residents, and one of the five Public Service Commission districts has too much of a deviation.

Of the six congressional districts, three have either too many or too few residents. Although they aren’t required to fall within a certain percentage, federal law requires them to be substantially equal in population.

Aside from drawing equal populations, state lawmakers are supposed to take other factors into account such as minority representation. Despite Black people making up nearly one-third of the state’s population, only one of Louisiana’s six congressmen is Black and just one state supreme court justice is Black. 

Historically, both in Louisiana and other states, redistricting has at times led to unfair representation of minority groups and a cementing of power for the incumbent political party through gerrymandering — a tactic of drawing political boundaries to benefit one party or group. 

The GOP has a super-majority in the Louisiana Senate but not in the House, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has veto authority for any political district maps passed by the legislature. That means the Democrats should have some ability to push back on political maps that favor Republicans, even though Republicans control both legislative chambers.

Peter Robins-Brown, policy and advocacy director with Louisiana Progress, said he hopes lawmakers will choose more competitive districts — meaning districts that aren’t dominated by the same candidate or the same party every election cycle. 

“Redistricting plays a central role in how our politics work, or whether our politics work at all,” he said. “We live in extremely politically divisive times, and Louisiana’s current political maps fuel that division by locking politicians and political parties into extremely safe seats, with little or no real competition.”

The process is expected to be completed by early next year.

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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