BATON ROUGE — On Jan. 19, citizens and politicians gathered to discuss the issue of redistricting in Louisiana at a summit put on by Fair Districts Louisiana, a bipartisan movement that aims to change the way redistricting is done in the state.
In 2020, legislators will begin the process of redistricting Louisiana, where they will redraw congressional and state legislative district maps. Redistricting uses data collected during the most recent census to rearrange maps to reflect population shifts. Louisiana has a history of partisan gerrymandering, which is when the size and shape of districts are manipulated to give one political party an advantage.
Fair Districts Louisiana believes that the only way to change the conflict of interest when political parties choose their own voters via redistricting is to reexamine the current redistricting process. The summit, which took place at Louisiana State University, was just the beginning of discussions that many hope will change the process for the better.
“This summit's purpose was just to get the conversation going in Louisiana," Stephen Kearny, a co-founder of Fair Districts Louisiana and chairman of the summit, told the Louisiana Record. "We'll certainly be holding more events as the actual redistricting period draws nearer.”
Kearny was pleased with the outcome of the summit, noting that around 150 people were there for the daylong discussions. Attendees included former and current state officials, redistricting experts and professors.
“Attendees were treated to very informative presentations on what different redistricting methods exist, their pros and cons and what Louisiana could potentially do given its governing structure,” Kearny said.
Kearny is hopeful that the discussions heard during the summit are a sign of change.
“Given the openness we heard from many Republican legislators towards drawing fair maps, we think it's possible to converge on a map that almost everyone can live with,” he said.
Speakers at the summit included Robert Travis Scott from the Public Affairs Research Council in Louisiana, state Sen. Neil Riser, state Rep. Ted James and many others.
“The discussions were largely frank and productive," Kearny said. "Even lawmakers who wanted to keep total control over redistricting spoke plainly about the reasons behind their opinions.”
In the past, voters have not gotten lawmakers to change the way redistricting is done, and several states have seen lawsuits over the maps that have been drawn.
Discussions on redistricting can be hard to keep from becoming partisan, especially when third parties get involved. Fair Districts Louisiana attempts to maintain an objective stance on the process.
“We avoid partisanship by taking the long view," Kearny said. "This isn't about who controls the state over the next ten years. It's about something much more important—the long-term health of our democracy.”