GONZALES — The U.S. Department of Justice does not object to Ascension Parish’s reapportionment plan for Parish Council districts, according to a letter Monday from the agency.
The pre-clearance letter came on the last day the parish had to submit one to the Louisiana Secretary of State so council elections could proceed Oct. 22, Registrar of Voters Robert Poche said.
The council had to refashion its 11 districts after the 2010 census. According to the census, heavy population growth has occurred mostly in the northern and central parts of the parish, resulting in the west bank having two council seats instead of three seats.
“Myself and the other councilmen are very satisfied that the plan was approved,” Council Chairman Pat Bell said in a statement Monday. “It was a hard, arduous process.”
The Department of Justice must pre-clear reapportionment plans in states with a history of segregation to ensure they do not violate the Voting Rights Act.
From 2000 to 2010, Ascension saw the fastest growth in Louisiana, increasing nearly 40 percent, census data shows.
Bell thanked redistricting consultant John Diez. He flew the plan to Washington, D.C., to hand-deliver it to the Department of Justice on July 5, shortly before the deadline.
Late last week, however, the council had to give Parish President Tommy Martinez the power to make minor technical changes. Parish elections officials were still submitting information Monday at the Justice Department’s request.
The Justice Department’s letter, which arrived Monday, noted the department’s lack of objection to the redistricting plan does not bar a lawsuit blocking its enforcement.
When the council backed redistricting plan June 29, a ministers group, a demographer and a chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People warned the plan violated voting rights guidelines.
The opponents of the plan urged the council to support an alternative from Councilman Oliver Joseph, who said Monday that he will not challenge the pre-cleared plan and that it is time to move on.