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Voting machines are prepared before early voting begins at City Hall in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. 

The legislative road tour has been hearing conflicting ideas about how to redraw Louisiana’s six U.S. House districts to best fit the state’s shifting population.

North shore voters, whose numbers have grown substantially since the 2010 census, want their own congressperson and to no longer be represented in Washington by a congressman from Jefferson Parish.

Baton Rouge is weary of having roughly half its voters represented by someone from New Orleans. The people of north Louisiana want to keep two representatives despite losing nearly 85,000 people over the past 10 years.

Black voters, who make up 32.8% of the state’s 4.6 million people but only 17% of the congressional delegation, want a district with enough minority voters to elect a second Black person to Congress.

The point of the roadshow at nine venues across the state — with three to go — is to educate the public on redesigning political maps that evenly distribute the voters who elect members of the U.S. House, state Senate, state House, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Public Service Commission.

State lawmakers, constitutionally charged with the remapping task every 10 years, also want to hear from constituents on which voters those districts should include.

The process is controversial and personal, as elected officials push to protect their turf by including precincts that most reflect their political philosophies and exclude those voters who don’t.

Though Louisiana legislators will draw maps for all sorts of offices, it’s the six U.S. House districts that draw the most attention, both from state voters and national politicos seeking partisan majorities in Congress.

Eighteen states across the nation have finished redrawing their maps for 157 congressional districts, according to FiveThirtyEight, an ABC website that focuses on political data analysis. Ninety of the already drawn districts nationally are filled with securely Republican voters, 55 lean Democratic and only 12 are competitive.

Politics aside, the goal for the Louisiana’s Republican-majority Legislature, when it meets in February to tackle the task, should be to prioritize racial proportionality and competitiveness, said Melissa Flournoy, chair of the Coalition for Louisiana Progress. In 2010, maps for the state’s congressional delegation were drawn for “five hard core Republicans” and “one African-American congressman.”

“The reality is you can draw these maps in a number of different ways,” said state Rep. John Stefanski, the Crowley Republican who, as chair of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, will vet all the bills that propose to redraw election districts.

“You could make two north Louisiana districts work. You shift up the whole geography of the state and make that work. You could probably, I think, maybe make two minority-majority districts work,” he added.

The process is numbers-based but has to follow strict legal guidelines.

Louisiana had an anemic 2.74% population growth during the past 10 years, compared to the national 7.35%, according to the census, and came close to losing one the state’s six House members.

The census documented a shift of Louisiana residents moving to communities along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, south of Lafayette and to New Orleans, where the 2010 census still reflected the effects of the Hurricane Katrina diaspora.

The numbers also showed a loss of population in rural areas in both north Louisiana and south. “People are leaving rural areas and moving to major metro areas,” Stefanski said.

Three districts will have to shed constituents to reach the 776,252 people required in each district: the Metairie-based 1st Congressional District, represented by Republican Steve Scalise, 69% of whom are White people of voting age, with 36,293 people over the ideal; the Lafayette-based 3rd District, represented by Republican Clay Higgins, 67% of whom are White people older than 18, with 9,532 over; and the Baton Rouge-based 6th District, represented by Republican Garret Graves, 65% of whom are voting-age White people, with 40,174 too many residents.

Three congressional districts will need more people: the New Orleans-Baton Rouge 2nd Congressional District, represented by Democratic Troy Carter, 58% of whom are voting-age Black people, is 1,000 short; the Shreveport-based 4th District, represented by Republican Mike Johnson, 58% of whom are voting-age White people, has 47,946 too few constituents; and the Monroe-based 5th District, represented by Julia Letlow, 60% of whom are voting-age White people, is short by 37,048.

New Orleans Democratic Rep. Royce Duplessis, vice chair on House & Governmental Affairs, on Wednesday told a Power Coalition for Equity and Justice seminar on redistricting for grassroots organizers that he wants congressional districts to be more racially and politically balanced, which would force congresspeople to pay more attention to alternative points of view.

“Unfortunately, right now, bad redistricting has led to voices not mattering where you have districts that are monolithic, where you have elected officials only have to listen to one perspective and that means there’s an entire perspective in that district that is shut out and they don’t matter,” Duplessis said.

At every stop of the roadshow, the legislators have heard about the need for a second minority-majority congressional district. Lawmakers also have been reminded that the state’s voters overwhelmingly backed Republican Donald Trump for president, twice, and have chosen GOP candidates for all but one of the offices elected statewide during the past decade. Therefore, the congressional delegation to Washington should reflect the state’s conservative majority.

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Numbers are numbers, said Baton Rouge Democratic Rep. Ted James, who chairs the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. The math says that if one-third of the state’s population is Black, so should its congressional delegation, meaning two Black congressmen.

“Republicans are really good about not practicing what they preach. They can’t say, ‘We’re going to follow the numbers,’ then not give representation to black and brown voters,” James said in an interview Thursday.

Majority White congressional districts have never elected a Black candidate.

“The state has had only four Black congresspeople since Reconstruction,” the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund wrote in an October letter sent to state lawmakers. “This is a direct consequence of the configuration of Louisiana's congressional districts: Black voters are packed into District 2, the state's only majority-minority opportunity district, and Black communities are cracked among the state's five majority White districts.”

The NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund and 16 organizations have forwarded proposals to carve out two districts in which Black voters hold a 51%-52% majority. James said the Black Caucus has looked at nine different proposed maps but isn’t ready to decide a favorite.

Stefanski recalls the U.S. Supreme Court throwing out a 63% Black majority district drawn in a “Z” shape from Shreveport to Baton Rouge as racially gerrymandered.

For all their perceived faults, the six district maps from 2010 were approved by federal authorities and a lot of legislators want to keep congressional districts the same, Stefanski said. “Some of the loudest – and a majority – of the voices I have heard so far have talked about: ‘Hey, we just have to get the numbers right and tweak the edges’,” he said.

Louisiana is one of a dozen states where the Legislature and governor are controlled by opposing political parties. Republicans hold 26 of the state Senate’s 39 seats and 68 of the House’s 105 – not a veto-proof majority.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards hasn’t met with legislators and hasn’t said much publicly about what he wants other than fair maps “where the districts aren't so irregularly shaped that you have to kind of scratch your head.” He added: “I will veto bills that I believe suffer from defects in terms of basic fairness.”

Census Findings on Congressional Districts

Ideal population is 776,292

District Total Population Difference Percent

     1          812,585             36,293      4.68%

     2          775,292            <1,000>  <0.13>

     3          785,824              9,532       1.23%

     4          728,346          <47,946>  <6.18%>

     5          739,244          <37,048>  <4.77%>

     6          816,466           40,174        5.18%

Source: Legislative Redistricting Town Halls

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.