Groups encouraging public input during Tennessee redistricting process

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – There’s a push to make sure Tennessee’s redistricting process is a fair one.

Right now, the state House Select Committee on Redistricting is drawing new maps based on the latest census data. The maps will determine the new political boundaries for the congressional, state senate, and state house districts. Tennessee’s Republican supermajority legislature is in charge of the process.

Lt. Governor Randy McNally announced the formation of the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Redistricting, which will be chaired by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). The vice-chairs will be Senate Minority Caucus Chair Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville).

Their goal will be to facilitate input from the public.

“This committee will help ensure my commitment to an open and transparent redistricting process. The Republican-led redistricting process ten years ago solicited public input for the first time. That precedent will continue this year,” McNally stated in a release. “Every legislator and every member of the public who wishes will have their voice heard in this process. Public input will help the legislature create a fair and legal plan based on the census numbers provided to us. It is a tough job balancing both our federal and state constitutional mandates but I believe this committee and the General Assembly is up to the task.”

U.S. Representative Jim Cooper, who represents Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District spoke at the redistricting committee’s inaugural meeting last month and urged lawmakers to keep Nashville whole.

“I believe that your solemn duty is to preserve county boundaries and communities as much as you possibly can. Tennessee law forces you to keep as many counties whole as possible when you draw your own districts; you should use the same standard for congressional districts,” Rep. Jim Cooper said. “Every county and community deserves its own unique voice in our republic whenever possible. Keeping counties whole respects the decisions that average citizens have already made to live and work in the community that they have chosen.”

According to Middle Tennessee State University Political Science Professor Dr. Sekou Franklin, there’s a nationwide effort to help push for fairness during the redistricting process.

“There’s a consortium of voting rights groups across the country that are working in almost every single state that are monitoring voting rights claims that are directly related to how districts are drawn and whether, you know, minority groups or people of color are unfairly drawn in or out of certain districts. So, those are the checks balances in place,” said Dr. Franklin. “But, at the end of the day, you’re still talking about a very kind of Bare Knuckle, you know, zero-sum game politics that gives an advantage to parties that are in charge of state legislatures in many states.”

Several organizations are hosting redistricting hearings to get more community input, includes the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, the Tennessee League of Women Voters, and Civic TN.

“There are concerns about how the state legislative seats are drawn in Rutherford County, where four seats converge right at MTSU, which has concerns about the dilution of the student vote,” said Dr. Franklin.

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He said community participation is vital because residents know their neighborhoods best.

“The reason why you want community participation, undoubtedly 100%, is that everyday people, the community, know where people live and don’t live,” Dr. Sekou explained. “They know if the community has been wiped out by a tornado or a flood. They know if a community has been displaced by transportation, they know there’s an unincorporated community behind the variable tracks.”

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