Mississippi lawmakers soon will be asked to vote on new configurations for their own House and Senate districts. It’s a politically sensitive task that could shape their own re-election prospects — and the prospects of their colleagues and their political parties — for the coming decade. The redistricting chairmen, Sen. Merle Flowers of Southaven and Rep. Bill Denny of Jackson, told The Associated Press that proposed new maps will be released within the next two weeks and should quickly come up for a vote in each chamber. Flowers and Denny, both Republicans, said they’ve been meeting privately the past couple of months with demographers, attorneys and other lawmakers, both individually and in groups, to try to draw districts that would make most lawmakers happy.
The 122 districts in the House and 52 in the Senate have to be updated after each Census to account for population changes, and drawing new maps is not a simple task. In areas where population is shrinking, such as the Delta and parts of metro Jackson, some current districts will be collapsed to make way for new districts in DeSoto County and other areas that have had significant growth.
“You put the districts where the folks are,” Flowers said.
Legislators try to draw districts that are compact. They also try to avoid splitting precincts between different districts. And, because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, the U.S. Justice Department must approve the new maps to ensure that minority voting strength is not diluted. “I tell my members all the time: ‘Look, we can sit here and draw everything that makes everybody happy. I’m making this drawing for the Justice Department,’” Denny said.