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Mississippi lawmakers gather info on redistricting puzzle

August 5, 2021 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers are traveling the state to gather ideas about how congressional and legislative districts should look in the coming decade — a series of public hearings that was scheduled before the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory, who is working on redistricting, said Thursday that drawing new political maps involves more than crunching numbers. He said the public hearings provide nuance about communities’ interests.

“It’s not a completely frivolous and silly undertaking,” Bryan said of the hearings. “There are things about local areas and local geography ... that we just don’t know.”

Redistricting happens every decade after census numbers show how the population has increased or decreased in different parts of the state.

Mississippi will keep four seats in the U.S. House, despite the Census Bureau finding that it was one of three states to lose population between 2010 and 2020. To roughly equalize the population among the four districts, the boundaries must be adjusted.

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Three of Mississippi’s U.S. House districts are majority-white and held by Republicans, and one is majority-Black and held by a Democrat. That partisan balance is unlikely to change. But, the majority-Black 2nd District, which encompasses the Delta and most of the city of Jackson, has lost population and will need to expand to take in more people.

Republicans hold wide majorities in the 52-member state Senate and 122-member state House, and they are poised to maintain that advantage during redistricting.

Republican Sen. Dean Kirby of Pearl, one of the redistricting leaders, said fast-growing and heavily Republican DeSoto County is likely to gain legislative seats, and some places with population loss will see seats lost or consolidated.

“It’s going to be a tricky puzzle to put together,” Kirby said Thursday.

Mississippi dropped from five U.S. House seats to four after the 2000 Census because the state was growing more slowly than many others. Legislators then deadlocked on how to go from five districts to four, and the districts were drawn by federal judges. The federal court again handled Mississippi’s congressional districts after the 2010 census.

The public hearings about redistricting began Thursday in Meridian. The other hearings, all scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., are:

— Friday in Tupelo at Itawamba Community College’s Belden Center.

— Monday in Senatobia at Northwest Community College’s Haraway Center.

— Wednesday in Itta Bena at Mississippi Valley State University’s William A. Butts Social Science Building.

— Aug. 12 in Starkville at Mississippi State University’s Hunter Henry Center.

— Aug. 16 in Natchez at Alcorn State University’s Business School Auditorium.

— Aug. 18 in Gulfport at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Fine Arts Auditorium.

— Aug. 19 in Hattiesburg at University of Southern Mississippi’s Thad Cochran Center.

— Aug. 23 in Jackson, Room 216 of the state Capitol.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.