The Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK -- A Republican panel on Monday approved new boundaries for Arkansas' state House and Senate seats that creates a new majority-Hispanic district but still drew complaints that it dilutes minority voters' representation in the Legislature.
The Board of Apportionment unanimously approved the new district lines for the state's 100 House and 35 Senate seats. The board is comprised of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston, who are all Republicans. Republicans hold a majority in both chambers of the Legislature.
The redistricting maps were approved after the panel tweaked parts of the map that were released to the public a month ago.
"Nothing's perfect but I think our system has worked well this time," Hutchinson said after the panel approved the maps.
The new boundaries keep the number of majority-Black Senate districts the same at four. In the House, the number of majority-Black districts decreases by one to 11, and a new majority-Hispanic district was created in northwest Arkansas.
That district, however, doesn't include Democratic Rep. Megan Godfrey, who currently represents the area and has been an advocate for the Hispanic community in the Legislature. Minutes after the map was approved, Godfrey tweeted that she would not seek reelection.
Democrats also said the map dilutes the representation of racial minorities altogether, saying the number of House districts where racial minorities make up a majority of the voting age population decreased from 17 to 14.
Arkansas' Black population dropped in the 2020 census to 15.3%, but advocates say that figure is underrepresented in the current and new House maps. The percentage of people who identify as Hispanic or Latino increased to 8.5%.
"This process was a missed opportunity to start doing things right in Arkansas, to have fairly drawn maps that respect voters and their communities," state Democratic Party Chairman Grant Tennille said in a statement. "Instead, we have yet another example of gerrymandering and voter suppression."
The new legislative boundaries were finalized more than a month after Hutchinson effectively approved a congressional redistricting plan that was criticized as weakening minority voters' influence by splitting the Little Rock area among three House districts.
Republicans praised the new state legislative maps, citing the addition of a majority-Hispanic district. Rutledge said she was confident the new maps meet the requirements of federal law and Arkansas' constitution.
"The board's efforts to keep communities of interest together and create the first-ever majority Latino voting age district are proof of their commitment to fair and equal representation," Arkansas GOP Chairwoman Jonelle Fulmer said.
But critics said the new lines will ultimately strengthen the GOP's grip on the Legislature.
"These map boundaries now make it harder for millions of ordinary Arkansans, like those who aren't white, or those who don't consider themselves Republican, to elect candidates of their own choosing," said Loriee Evans, lead organizer with Indivisible Little Rock and Central Arkansas.