Creating a new majority-minority EBR council district may prove difficult

Metro Council
The Baton Rouge Metro Council in 2019.(Don Kadair)

The growth of East Baton Rouge Parish’s minority population over the past decade doesn’t necessarily mean redistricting will result in a new Black-majority Metro Council district. 

The local branch of the NAACP plans to sue if the council doesn’t create a new district with a Black majority. But even without the inevitable political struggle, carving out such a district is easier said than done, political consultant and pollster John Couvillon says. 

“The districts represented by Black Metro Council members are population-losing, which means you have to take care of that first because of equal-population requirements,” he says. “The Black population in Baton Rouge is becoming steadily more dispersed than it used to be.” 

EBR’s racial makeup is about 43% white and 45% Black, according to the 2020 census results. But Couvillon says when you take into account residents who list themselves as more than one ethnic group, the two largest racial groups are roughly in parity. Districts also need to be reasonably compact and represent existing communities to survive court scrutiny, he adds. 

“Redistricting is a multilayered approach where you have a bunch of objectives, some of which can be contradictory,” Couvillon says, adding that he expects the current redistricting cycle to be more contentious than the one that followed the 2010 census. 

Eugene Collins, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP, says his group expects the process to result in at least one additional Black district.

“Anything less than that, you can expect the NAACP to take a very aggressive stance,” he says. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has thrown out a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that formerly required certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to seek preclearance of new districts from the federal government. That means legal challenges will have to come from community groups, not the U.S. Department of Justice. 

“We are prepared to bring suit, not just in the Metro Council stance, but in the school board stance, if we don’t gain seats,” Collins says. “We’re really hoping that it does not get to that.” 

He says it’s too soon to say which existing districts would be most affected. Rather, every district needs to be examined from square one. 

“The districts are so gerrymandered,” he says. “You could shake probably four of those Republican seats and wind up with a Black district.” 

Black voters tend to support Democrats, which means altering the racial balance also could upset Republicans’ 7-5 majority on the council. 

“I would expect the Republican party to want to hold on to the majority,” Collins says. “Just like if the Democrats had the majority, I would expect them to do the same.”