Group says Louisiana needs to rethink how it designs congressional districts

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With another round of redistricting on the horizon, a new Louisiana organization says it's time to rethink how the Bayou State draws its congressional districts.

Fair Districts Louisiana is making the push ahead of the 2020 census, which will instigate the redistricting. The group's leaders argue that Louisiana's way of designing districts is partisan and unfair to residents. Currently in Louisiana, lawmakers at the state capitol get to redraw the lines. That can lead to charges of gerrymandering, or drawing lines to give one side or group a political advantage.

"Voters elect the representatives. With partisan gerrymandering, the representatives elect their voters," said Brian Marks, assistant professor of political geography at LSU. He spoke on behalf of Fair Districts Louisiana during an appearance at the Baton Rouge Press Club.

The group points to three congressional districts where they argue partisanship may be getting in the way of fairness. Cedric Richmond's district, which stretches between large urban areas in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, has a high concentration of Democrats. Meanwhile, mostly Republican areas hug his district on either side, with Garret Graves to the west and Steve Scalise to the east.

"We don't have competitive elections anywhere," said Marks. "We're about 40 percent Democrat, 60 percent Republican, and we have 16.6 percent representation in the Democratic Party."

The new push from Fair Districts Louisiana comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to make a decision on the legality of partisan gerrymandering. That decision is expected to be announced next summer.

The group argues there are alternatives to letting the state legislature design the maps, including creating an independent commission. Other states already use this technique. However, at the state capitol, the Democratic head of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee defended the legislature's role in the process, saying their work is done publicly, not privately. He also noted that even with a commission, politics are unavoidable.

"Somebody's got to make that choice," said Rep. Michael Danahay, D-Sulphur. "Those choices become political in nature whether you are choosing a commission or whether the legislature is doing it."

Fair Districts Louisiana will be hosting a "redistricting summit" at LSU on January 19, 2018. Co-founder, Stephen Kearny, says he hopes to take what is learned at the summit and turn it into recommendations for the state legislature.

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