For the first time in history, County Justice of Peace (JP) Districts were originated digitally using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Arkansas. The statewide map of JP districts (large format file link) is the result of nearly two years of planning by state and local officials.
In a 2010 news article the Arkansas Geographic Information Office (AGIO) announced a local redistricting contract specification was available to assist counties in the JP redistricting process. The US Census released the 2010 population and block data to state and local officials in February, 2011. That data was released in a GIS format and allowed the real redistricting work to begin.
In this day and age, using paper maps was simply an outdated method for redistricting. The goal was that counties undertake an all digital redistricting process. Everyone involved wanted every district in every county born digital.
The collective effort included many contributors. County Clerks, Election Commissioners, and Election Coordinators at the local level all pitched in to help. On the State level, the Secretary of State office did a lot of heavy lifting. Some counties chose to the complete the work in-house using county GIS staff under the direction of the Election Commission. Others chose to contract the work to GIS consultants. A good number of counties chose to work with the redistricting staff in the Secretary of State office. Together they used the AutoBound GIS software that was used by the State Board of Apportionment. Once each county completed their JP redistricting plans they were required to file the adopted plans with the Secretary of State. Staff from the Secretary of State office received the legal filing of the districts and then coordinated with each county to collect the digital map. When the entire state was collected the data was sent to the AGIO where staff began assembling them into a seamless statewide map. The entire process from start to finish took just over a year.
The completed map represents 789 unique JP districts in the 75 counties. The odd figure stems from the state law governing the number of districts in each county. Arkansas Code 14-14-402 sets the number of districts by the county’s total population. Less populated counties have nine districts while the most populated has fifteen. The new districts take effect the next election cycle and the maps show incumbents or prospective candidates where the district lies and how it relates to the rest of the county. Once elected the map will show them the layout of their peer districts just across the county line.
The next steps will involve making the statewide JP districts available to the Census Bureau to be incorporated into the 2020 edition of Census block file. Although most counties are not ready to look ahead, the digital record will aid them in 2021 when they undertake the redistricting process again following the 2020 Census.
GIS users wishing to access the JP District data can locate it here on GeoStor.