The Mississippi Legislature held the final hearing in a statewide series of nine hearings Monday as it starts the process of redrawing district lines for both legislative and congressional districts.
Most of those who spoke to lawmakers asked for a transparent and equitable process.
Population shifts will determine district boundaries, with some counties such as DeSoto and Harrison showing large growth that will likely increase their legislative delegations. The biggest declines statewide were rural areas of the state, which means districts will likely cover a greater geographical area to ensure that each senator or house member represents the same number of constituents.
State Rep. Charles Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, is the chairman of the joint legislative committee that will handle redistricting, a constitutionally required chore performed every 10 years with a new U.S. Census.
Beckett said that since lawmakers aren't up for re-election in 2022 and filing deadlines for candidates have been moved up, the Standing Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment and Standing Joint Congressional Redistricting Committee will tackle the congressional district lines first.
“Due to population shifts, we're going to face challenges,” Beckett said. “The population gains have been limited to a few number of counties and the losses have been fairly widespread. There wasn't a lot of change in our population. Whether you gained or lost population, it creates its own unique set of problems.
“I'm in a very rural area already and that already lost population and my district may be huge and getting larger. (State) Sen. Dean Kirby's district isn't very large because he's in a lot more populated area. When you look at a map, you're going to see all sizes, you're going to see very small districts and you're going to see very large districts. Our large districts may get larger and our smaller districts might get smaller.”
Kirby's senate district encompasses the city of Pearl and some of the surrounding areas.
The state lost 6,018 residents as compared to the 2010 census, the first population loss in 60 years.
Lynn Evans, a Jackson resident, told the committee she wanted at least four state senate districts in Hinds County, with two or three living in Jackson along with nine or 10 state house members.
Evans is a board member for Common Cause Mississippi, a group that wants early voting in the state.
“The city of Jackson needs more influential legislators to effectively lobby for our city's best interests, “ Evans said. “It's not clear to me at all how we can sell our state to new businesses and get bright, young professionals to move to Mississippi we continue to neglect our capitol city.”
She also decried gerrymandering and the drawing of safe districts, which she said leads to fringe members being elected that can embarrass the state. She also said the state needed more African-American lawmakers (31 percent of lawmakers are African-American despite representing 38 percent of the population) and only 16 percent of lawmakers are women.
Jennifer Riley-Collins, a former Democratic candidate for attorney general, told the committee that illegal aliens be given consideration in the redistricting process and also wanted the incarcerated to be counted as part of their home communities instead of where the state prison was located.
According to these numbers, each of the Senate's 52 members will represent about 56,998 residents. That marks a decline from 2010 when each senator represented 57,063.
In the House, each of its 122 members will represent about 24,294 people. In 2010, that number was 24,322 per representative.
The requirement in the Mississippi Constitution is that legislative boundaries be contiguous. In addition, state law requires them to be compact and cross as few political boundaries as possible. Once the line-drawing process is complete, lawmakers will pass a joint resolution with the district lines that isn't subject to a veto by the governor.
The biggest winners in terms of added representation, according to the census data, were: the three coastal counties of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson; Lafayette County; and suburban counties such as DeSoto (Memphis, Rankin and Madison counties (Jackson) and Lamar County (Hattiesburg).
The biggest loser was Hinds County, which lost 17,543 residents compared to the 2010 census, a loss of 7.2 percent of its population. Madison and Rankin counties took advantage of the exodus, growing by 14.6 percent (13,942 new residents) and 10.9 percent (15,414 new residents) respectively.