SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/ KMSS) – Local representatives are urging voters in Northwest Louisiana to get involved in the redistricting process because the loss in population recorded in the 2020 Census could affect their representation in everything from city and school districts to state and federal government.
Every ten years, the state Legislature must use the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau for redistricting. The process involves adding or removing districts and redrawing district boundaries where necessary to match population metrics so that each district has an “ideal,” or equitable, number of voters. Under federal law, districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Dist. 3 Rep. Tammy Phelps says Shreveport ranked among the lowest for response to the 2020 Census, which contributed to the loss of 11,000 in population counted since the last count. The city’s population dropped from 199,311 in 2010 to 187,593 in 2020.
“It’s alarming because it affects the number of representatives that we can have for the number of people. We are now in jeopardy of losing; we could possibly lose a seat based on these numbers.”
While Louisiana retained its six congressional seats, population shifts will also likely require boundaries to be redrawn to balance the population between the districts. District 4, which includes northwest Louisiana and the western part of central Louisiana, lost around 27,200 residents over the last decade. It is one of three in the state that will need to expand its boundaries to comply with the equal population requirement.
Phelps believes not everyone understood the importance of returning the census form for an accurate count.
“I don’t think they knew how it affected [them], and that’s just something we’ll have to do a better job at the next generation in the next ten years.”
Caddo Parish also saw a decline in the population of more than 17,000, dropping 254,969 in 2010 to 237,848 in 2020.
“We know that a lot of people have left our area, and we know it is because of lack of better jobs, better opportunities, and a lot of it is crime,” said Caddo Dist. 7 Commissioner Stormy Gage-Watts.
In another significant population shift to come out of the 2020 Census, Black people now make up a greater share of the population in Caddo Parish than in 2010 and are now the plurality.
Now Gage-Watts, Phelps, and others want to make sure the public understands the importance of weighing in when it comes to redrawing district lines based on the new numbers. They recently held a community meeting to go over the next steps to ensuring proper representation in each district – including attendance at an upcoming public hearing held by the Louisiana Legislature’s Joint Governmental Affairs Committee to inform the map-drawing process.
That public hearing, set for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 21 at LSU Shreveport, is the second in a series the committee is set to hold in communities around the state. The first will be held on Wednesday, October 20, at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
“This is going to determine who they vote for, where they vote at, and even when it comes down to the funding for the community and the things your community says is important to them,” said Candice Battiste, North Louisiana organizer for the Power Coalition For Equity & Justice. “You want to make sure you have somebody who’s listening to everyone in that community.”
The ACLU of Louisiana is also planning to hold a Fair Maps for Louisiana meeting on Tue., Oct. 19 to help citizens prepare for the legislature’s redistricting public hearing.
The Legislature will convene a special legislative session in February 2022 to iron out its redistricting plan, which must be completed by the end of the year. Gov. John Bel Edwards has the authority to veto any proposed congressional and legislative district map, and the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to scrutinize all redistricting plans to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.