LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a new congressional map that splits up the state's most populous county into three U.S. House districts, drawing complaints that the move will dilute the influence of minority voters in the Little Rock area.
The House and Senate approved identical versions of the redistricting proposal that splits up portions of Pulaski County among the 1st, 2nd and 4th congressional districts. Pulaski County, which includes the Little Rock area, is heavily Democratic and currently in the state's 2nd District.
Final votes on the proposal are expected in both chambers on Thursday. The Senate approved the measure 22-10, while the House approved it 59-30.
Democrats complained the new map would move precincts made up of mostly minority voters out of the 2nd District and accused Republicans of trying to make a GOP district even redder.
"It is prejudiced, it is hyper-partisan and it is petty," said Democratic Sen. Linda Chesterfield, a Democrat from Little Rock.
In Pulaski County, nearly 48.6% of the population identifies as white alone, while 35.6% identifies as Black alone, according to the most recent Census data. In the county, 8.3% identify as Hispanic or Latino.
Republicans hold all four of the state's U.S. House seats, along with a majority in both chambers of the state Legislature. Democrats have tried unsuccessfully in recent years to flip the 2nd District, which has been Republican-held since 2011.
Arkansas is the only former Confederate state that has not had a Black member of the U.S. House.
Sen. Clarke Tucker, a Democrat from Little Rock, said the move was unnecessary both for redrawing congressional boundaries and as an attempt to gain a political advantage.
"The 2nd Congressional District is already a majority-Republican congressional district. Believe me, I know," said Tucker, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2018. "You could change it and keep counties whole and make it even more Republican than it is now without splitting Pulaski County."
Supporters of splitting the county have said it makes sense given Pulaski County's location in the middle of the state and that it helps limit the number of counties being split. The proposal also splits Sebastian County in west Arkansas between the 3rd and 4th districts, which also drew opposition from lawmakers in the area.
Under the state's current map, five counties are split among the districts.
"This map can be challenged and defended in court," Republican Rep. Nelda Speaks told the chamber before the vote.
Republican Rep. David Ray, who represents part of Pulaski County, said the county would still be the most populous in the 2nd congressional district even with the changes.
"It's still going to be the largest county, it's still going to hold the most sway, it's still going to be the center of gravity," he said.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson stopped short of saying whether he supports the proposal, but said he had heard the concerns from Pulaski County lawmakers about the move.
"I would urge (lawmakers) that you do not want to dilute minority representation or influence in congressional races," Hutchinson told reporters. "That is an important factor that I believe should be considered."