Sen. Akbari calls on voters to demand fair maps, speak out against gerrymandering

Public invited to speak Monday at Tennessee Senate’s first meeting on districting

NASHVILLE — Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) wants Tennesseans to speak out Monday in favor of fair districts and keeping communities whole.

The Tennessee Senate’s committee on community districting will host its first public meeting 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18.

“I want every Tennessean, who feels their concerns have not been heard in our state politics, to sign up and speak out for fair maps and whole communities,” said Sen. Akbari. “These new political maps determine whether your voice and your community has equal access to the decision making process that decides funding for schools, hospitals, and other essential services — for a decade. We need your voice in this conversation.”

Anyone wishing to speak or submit a public comment must contact the committee’s staff by 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15. Contact information: email Luke.Gustafson@capitol.tn.gov or phone (615) 741–7881.

Also called redistricting or reapportionment, the process, which determines new boundaries for political districts, begins every 10 years after federal census officials release data showing the population of every county, city and town in the nation. Due to shifting populations over a decade, political boundaries usually must be adjusted to ensure that districts at each level of government have roughly equal population.

While many states have created independent commissions to draw maps for legislative approval, Tennessee’s process of drawing districts for U.S. Congress and the General Assembly is controlled by the party members who control the state legislature.

Fair maps

In addition to districts that are roughly equal in population, a good district map will encompass a whole community or a community of shared interests, such as a city, neighborhood or group of people who have common policy concerns that would benefit from being drawn into a single district, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Keeping communities whole ensures that elected officials are responsive to the needs of voters in that community.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. But, in the past, lawmakers have drawn district lines to entrench one party’s political power, making some votes count more than others.

This practice, called gerrymandering, skews election results, makes races less competitive, hurts communities, and thwarts the will of the voters.

In 2011, Tennessee mapmakers split several cities and counties in arbitrary ways:

  • For instance, on the Congressional maps, both Maury County and the county seat Columbia were divided between two separate congressional districts.
  • In East Tennessee, Bradley County was also divided in half between two congressional districts.
  • Similarly, the city of Memphis was divided into two separate congressional districts.
  • In the Tennessee Senate, the city of Knoxville was divided among three separate districts — despite being very close in population to the ideal district.
  • The city of Chattanooga was also divided into two state senate districts, as was the city of Murfreesboro.

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