Now what with redistricting

Published 3:15 pm Friday, November 11, 2011

Here are a few items left in the 2011 general election notebook:

Both in the media and in among political operatives in both major parties in Mississippi, there has been a general assumption that the Legislature’s failure to complete legislative redistricting dictated back-to-back legislative elections in both 2011 and again in 2012.

The Legislature was unable to complete the drawing of new maps prior to the 2011 elections. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling on redistricting, allowing state lawmakers to run in their current districts in Tuesday’s elections.

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Mississippi’s redistricting is complicated by the fact that the state has a prior history of drawing blacks out of the equation and any plan Mississippi legislators draft must be approved by the U.S. Justice Dept. The state’s 122 state House districts and 52 Senate districts have to be updated to reflect population changes based on new census figures from the 2010 census.

A three-judge federal panel said the state could hold the 2011 elections in the old districts, redraw the lines, and then hold another election under the new plans in 2012 after the Justice Department approves the new plans. That same scenario played out in Mississippi after the 1990 Census.

But not all state legislators are convinced that there will be back-to-back elections. Veteran lawmaker State Sen. Hob Bryan, D- Amory, said last week that he rated chances of back-to-back state legislative elections “at about 50 percent.” Several Republican lawmakers have expressed similar sentiments, but NAACP attorney Carroll Rhodes of Hazlehurst has said his clients will submit their own redistricting maps because the current districts are “severely malapportioned.”

When the dust settles from the Nov. 8 elections, legislative redistricting becomes the No. 2 issue on the minds of members of the state House of Representatives. The top issue is the contest to choose a new speaker of the House.

The Legislature is also charged with congressional redistricting. While that task is not expected to generate the heat that is did a decade ago when Mississippi lost a congressional district, there is an effort by Republicans to bypass the Obama Administration Justice Department and leave the process in the federal courts.

The Mississippi GOP has asked federal judges to redraw the lines for the state’s four congressional districts before the 2012 elections. The largest bone of contention appears to be disagreements between the senior member of the state’s House delegation — U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton — and Republican U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, over political turf along their border of their districts.

One of the most closely watched statistics from the Nov. 8 general elections will be the count on absentee ballots across the state. While the voters spoke to the issue of voter ID as a mean to combat voter fraud, the facts make clear that absentee ballot fraud is the area of state elections that currently allow the most frequent and widespread voter fraud opportunities.

But it appears clear that absentee voting is on the rise and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has identified a number of counties in which individuals are witnessing multiple absentee ballots. That trend has been increased for the last few election cycles.

Absentee ballot reform and a revisiting of the question of true early voting are reforms that the Legislature should debate in 2012.

(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or