By: Theo Weber
While federal congressional elections are not being held in Mississippi until 2022, and state house and senate races aren’t until 2023, the redistricting process in the “Magnolia state” is well underway. However, Mississippi is currently facing a problem that has been accelerating in recent years, causing issues for legislators drawing the maps: that problem is population decline.
From 2000 to 2010, Mississippi saw an increase in population just shy of 125,000 people, a 4.31% increase. However, from 2010 to 2020, Mississippi saw a decrease in population of right around 6,000 people, one of only three states in the United States to see a population decline in the decade.
The decrease in population has been fueled by a decrease in two particular areas: white Mississippians and black Mississippians. White Mississippians have seen a 5.77% decrease in population over the past decade while black Mississippians have seen a somewhat less drastic 1.27% decrease. This has been accompanied by an increase in non-white and non-black populations, particularly Hispanic residents, who now make up around 7.36% of the citizenship in the state.
Decreases in a state’s population can already be challenging enough for legislators charged with drawing new maps in the redistricting process, but when that population decrease is racially colored, the challenges only increase. This is exactly the case in Mississippi, where the decreases in the state’s black population are occurring in predominantly black areas, particularly in the 2nd Congressional District, the state’s only majority-minority federal district.
What is particularly interesting in Mississippi is how the legislature is going about tackling this problem in its attempt to draw maps for the upcoming elections in future years—the legislature seems to be turning to the public for extra help.
The redistricting process in Mississippi is one that the legislature has retained significant control over, but that does not mean it has been free of issues. Typically, the Standing Joint Congressional Redistricting Committee, which is comprised of state legislators from both the House and the Senate, is responsible for drawing the maps. However, the 2010 process showed just how fragile that process actually is.
Legislators failed to complete new Congressional maps in the 2010 process, instead sending the process to the federal judiciary. Meanwhile, the state Senate map that was drawn by the committee was challenged by Mississippi’s own Lieutenant Governor, who drew his own map. And while the committee-drawn map was ultimately chosen, it was not devoid of issues and faced a multitude of legal challenges, particularly from the NAACP.
With both a history of redistricting challenges, and a slate of new ones brought on by the population changes, Mississippi legislators on the Redistricting Committee are looking for citizen input. Nine hearings have been held by the Committee around the state, taking questions from citizens, asking for input, and generally wanting to know what the people of the state want in their maps. The response seems to be fairly consistent throughout the hearings: limit gerrymandering in the maps. However, given the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County, Mississippi is no longer required to go through the pre-clearance program, and now that for the first time in over 50 years the maps don’t require Department of Justice approval. It is thus uncertain if gerrymandering will be limited.
Mississippi is taking another step to engage the public in the map drawing process however, and that is opening up the map drawing process to the public. Through the Mississippi Automated Resource Information System website, in-depth data has become quite accessible to the public, along with certain tools that can help any individual citizen who wants to try to draw a map. While it is still uncertain how much the Committee will take these maps into consideration, they will become a part of the public record as an additional form of civic engagement. Does it solve the problems that the Mississippi legislature is facing with its population changes with regards to redistricting? Not necessarily. But is it positive to see increased civic engagement with the process? Almost undoubtedly.