LITTLE ROCK — A state senator is among 24 plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed Monday alleging Arkansas' new legislative redistricting plan dilutes black votes in the eastern Arkansas senate district he represents.
LITTLE ROCK — A state senator is among 24 plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed Monday alleging Arkansas’ new legislative redistricting plan dilutes black votes in the eastern Arkansas senate district he represents.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Sen. Jack Crumbly, D-Widener, and 23 other residents of District 16, said the new boundaries for the Senate district are discriminatory because they lower the percentage of voting-age blacks from 58 percent to 53 percent.
Crumbly, who is black, has served as senator for District 16, which includes St. Francis, Lee, Phillips and Crittenden counties, since 2007.
Under the new boundaries, the district, which changes to number 24, covers all of Crittenden and parts of Cross, St. Francis, Lee and Phillips counties.
The lawsuit, assigned to U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes, seeks an injunction that would force the state to redraw the district lines.
“They’re alleging that their voting strength has been diluted by the present consideration of Senate 24,” said attorney James Valley of Helena-West Helena, who represents Crumbly and the other plaintiffs. “There was too much emphasis placed on Crittenden County, to the detriment of the Lee, St. Francis and Phillips county residents.”
Under the new boundary lines, Crittenden County makes up 60 percent of the district, Valley said.
Crumbly is seeking re-election to the seat. Rep. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, who is white, has announced his intentions to seek the office.
The filing period begins Feb. 23 and ends March 1. The state primary is May 22.
Crumbly said Monday that he was asked to participate in the lawsuit because he is senator for the district.
“This isn’t about me, it’s much, much larger,” he said, adding the litigation was about residents who believe they are being disenfranchised.
“They really feel that, and I have maintained all along, that a district with a higher (black voting age population) could have been drawn,” he said.
The state Board of Apportionment, comprised of Gov. Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Secretary of State Mark Martin, approved a plan redrawing state House and Senate districts in July 2011.
The panel approved the plan on a 2-1 vote, with Martin, a Republican, voting against it.
Alex Reed, spokesman for the secretary of state, declined comment Monday afternoon, saying that Martin had not seen the lawsuit.
After the board’s vote last year, Martin criticized the redistrict plan approved, citing “serious concerns about passing a redistricting plan that might result in protracted litigation” and about “reverting back to a time in which African American voters’ influence was diluted through the redistricting process.”
Criticism at the time centered on the House map that reduced the number of black-majority districts from 13 to 11. The Senate map maintained four black-majority districts but reduced the percentage of the majorities.
Beebe said then that the number of black-majority House districts had to be reduced “simply because of population changes and population shifts.”
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Monday the governor is not surprised by a lawsuit over the redistricting boundaries.
Aaron Sadler, spokesman for attorney general, said the attorney general had yet to see the lawsuit.
“The (Reapportionment) Board adhered to legally sound redistricting principles and the statewide maps adopted by the Board represent those principles,” Sadler said.