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Demographer who made Metro Council map at center of voting rights lawsuit says the map is not illegal

2 weeks 6 days 8 hours ago Monday, June 24 2024 Jun 24, 2024 June 24, 2024 8:32 PM June 24, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - In August 2022, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted 7-5 along racial lines to approve a new district map.

It was the culmination of a six-month process of community meetings, workshops and demographic research from Mike Hefner. He has been involved in hundreds of redistricting projects throughout his career.

"We did redistricting in about 39 parishes in this past 2020 redistricting cycle," he said.

Hefner was hired by the City-Parish to equally redistribute the population among the 12 districts following the 2020 census.

"First thing we do is we take a look at the current districts they have in effect from the 2020 population. We find out which ones are outside plus or minus 5 percent from the district average. Where they are high or low beyond that then we make adjustments to their boundaries to either put people in, or take people out to rebalance the total population."

Black council members wanted to use the redistricting opportunity to draw in another majority black district. That didn't happen.

Now, council members Cleve Dunn, Chauna Banks, Darryl Hurst, Lamont Cole and Carolyn Coleman plan to sue the parish, claiming the new map violates the Voting Rights Act by not accurately reflecting the parish's demographics.

Hefner says he isn't surprised by the lawsuit.

"I think a lot of them at the time, not just in EBR, but other areas felt that this was an opportunity to get more minority representation by adding more minority districts."

He says he does not believe the map he helped draw violates the Voting Rights Act and wouldn't have recommended it if he thought the map was breaking the rules. Hefner says Black residents started to outnumber white residents in East Baton Rouge Parish between 2010 and 2020.

"It's a plurality. It's not over 50 percent with the 2020 census. It's more than the white population by about three percent, but it's not over 50 percent."

Additionally, the future plaintiffs say the new map set to take effect this upcoming election dilutes voting strength by "packing" large numbers of black voters into a few majority-black council districts.

It's not clear why this lawsuit is being filed mere months before the fall election, however it comes after the success of similar ones challenging congressional and supreme court maps.

Dunn, Banks, Coleman, Hurst and Cole will have a press conference announcing the lawsuit Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in City Hall.

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