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Skyline of metro Baton Rouge Thursday August 12, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. East Baton Rouge Parish remained Louisiana's largest parish in 2020 and grew slightly faster than the state average over the past decade, hitting 456,781 people, new census data show. Louisiana's capital parish grew by nearly 3.8% between 2010 and 2020. Some outlying parishes both east and west of East Baton Rouge grew faster and helped the 12-parish region push past 1 million people.

By this time next year, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council expects to have adopted new single-member district boundaries to reflect population shifts in the 2020 U.S. Census.

With minorities, particularly Black people, now slightly overshadowing Whites in East Baton Rouge, it stands to reason that White conservatives will likely lose the strong majority they've held on the Metro Council for decades. 

Constitutionally mandated redistricting throughout the state will likely ignite spirited debate, given the number of people watching how city-parish leaders carve out the next decade's boundaries for the council's 12 seats. 

"Ideally, it's about getting more competitive districts," Together Baton Rouge spokesman Khalid Hudson said. "Right now within different districts things become so polarized. If you have 70% of the people thinking one way, a candidate doesn't have to listen to the other 30%."

"We have to create space where democracy can really happen within districts," he added. 

Hudson said the faith-based community organization will engage the public in the reapportionment processes for both the Metro Council and East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, which has already began its redistricting work. 

Another group watching closely from the sidelines is the Baton Rouge NAACP. 

Eugene Collins, the branch's president, says that if the new Metro Council districts fail to mirror the racial shifts within the parish, they'll file legal challenges to stop them. 

"We know for a fact this town is swinging minority," he said. "When you look at political representation, it's supposed to be about people who represent what the city looks like. We've had extreme gerrymandered districts in the past. We're hoping this process can be figured out in an equitable manner." 

The population counts from the U.S. Census Bureau, released last month, showed a nearly 4% growth over the past decade in East Baton Rouge. That growth spurt was largely concentrated in the southern half and within pockets of the northern ends of the parish.   

Of the 456,781 who live in the parish, 42.9% identified as White and 45.2% as Black. People identifying as Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander or "some other race" collectively comprise 6.8% of the city-parish, according to census data.

Those identifying as two or more races made up the remaining demographic percentage.

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Baton Rouge attorney Dannie Garrett, who specializes in reapportionment, cautions folks from concentrating solely on racial demographics when thinking of redistricting. Garrett, who is working on the parish School Board's reapportionment this year, said other factors in remapping districts include making them contiguous to avoid splitting up neighborhoods and communities while protecting minority voting strength. 

"You have to be able to put the puzzle together," he said. "Based on what I'm seeing with the School Board, I think the Metro Council will face some of the same situations where you'll have more areas that have become 50/50 when it comes to Black and White residents."

"And if they're 50/50, what is the voting-age population? Then if you go further, what is the voter registration numbers for that district," Garrett added. 

Having said all that, Garrett also noted that race can't be the predominate factor in reapportionment. 

"The most important thing in any redistricting is to try and get the population of each district close to ideal," he said. "Ideal is the total population divided by the number of districts. It's impossible to get every district perfect evenly. You have a leeway plus or minus 5%."

Among other quirky things that can pop up during reapportionment are times when incumbents try to keep themselves and their family members in their respective districts, Garrett said. Also, plans can be drawn up that lean heavily toward either Republicans or Democratic representation. 

The Metro Council at its Oct. 13 meeting will consider adopting the proposed reapportionment plan the Council Administration office has presented to them. That plan outlines the next year for redistricting work that will include representatives from the city-parish's Planning Commission, Parish Attorney's Office and GIS department. 

The parish, like the School Board, will also hire an outside expert to help with that work. 

The target date for completion is September 2022. The effective date of the new council districts will be Jan. 2024.

Candidates will have to run for seats in the newly drawn districts in the fall 2023 elections.

As of yet, there's no indication about how and when proposed district maps will be presented for public review. 

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