July 6th was a pretty big day for me. That was the day we submitted the signatures of over 100,000 Arkansas voters to the Secretary of State. Voters who had gone out in a pandemic – many risking their health, and some their life – because we wanted to change the way our state decides who represents us in Little Rock and in Washington.
Maybe a trip to the Secretary of State’s office to perform a mundane administrative duty isn’t a big deal for most people, but it was for me. I admit, I’m a nerd. I’m a democracy nerd.
That Monday was so inspiring to me because it felt like we had accomplished so much and moved us toward more representative government. I remember thinking, “Who isn’t going to love fair maps?” Well, I was about to find out I was very, VERY wrong.
Arkansas is the 8th most gerrymandered state in the country. And apparently that’s the way some people like it.
The day after we filed, powerful people in Washington started a dark money group to prevent Arkansans from having the opportunity to vote on this issue. The State of Arkansas has dug in to kill this proposal. They fought us in Federal Court to stop voters from mailing in signed petitions. When they lost, they appealed to a higher court. Then the Secretary of State announced they had stopped counting signatures before the Arkansas Supreme Court had even heard the case.
Those who strongly oppose non-partisan redistricting do so for one simple reason: The system already benefits them.
One of the core principles of democracy is that everyone’s vote counts equally. Gerrymandering does away with all that.
Politicians rail about groups from outside our community, or outside our country, that are “trying to steal our elections.” Our elections are already being stolen by a system that determines the winner before the race even starts.
We need a transparent and accountable redistricting process to end hyper-partisan practices that don’t benefit anyone except the people already in office.
The responsibility for fair redistricting should be vested in the people of our state – not the politicians.
The independent redistricting commission outlined in our petition does just this by putting the power in the hands of voters.
The U.S. Constitution calls for each state to redraw their Congressional and state legislative districts after every census. Currently, the authority to draw our maps rests with politicians and lobbyists. The Board of Apportionment, comprised of the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State, re-draws our state legislative districts while the state legislature draws the lines of our four U.S. congressional districts.
There are absolutely no restrictions keeping the Board of Apportionment from working with lobbyists, party bosses, and other special interests to establish these district boundaries.
This has led to special interests from both sides of the aisle drawing maps that overwhelmingly benefit people already in power. By drawing crazy shaped districts that “pack” some constituents into one district and “crack” their opponents across several districts they dilute the power of voters based on how they vote. At the end of the day, politicians and representatives aren’t held accountable.
Because this process only occurs once every ten years, it’s imperative that we fix it now. We cannot wait another decade.
The latest attempt by the Secretary of State to block our ballot initiative is an egregious move to disenfranchise over 100,000 Arkansas who showed up during a global pandemic to sign for fair maps. Arkansans want a voter led redistricting commission and we have spoken.
We voiced our support through the lines of cars at drive-up signing events, thousands of pledges, and requests to sign. We stood outside in the heat and humidity with our team members and volunteers for hours to collect signatures. We deserve better than the current hyper-partisan system we have and the voters have spoken. They want to vote on this issue. Let them.
You either want to live in a state where everyone is represented equally, or you don’t. This isn’t a difficult decision.
Editor’s note: Bonnie Miller is the President of the League of Women Voters of Washington County and the Chair of Arkansas Voters First ballot question committee. The opinions expressed are those of the author.