New data, new districts: How the Census affects JPs

The U.S. Census Bureau released the 2010 Census data on Feb. 11, 2011, providing updated population data for the state.  The Census comes around every ten years and results in an additional workload for county officials.

The release of new data has two major effects on counties. First, it affects counties’ Quorum Court districts (aka JPs). Changes in population density directly affect the size of JPs. If the population increases significantly, the JPs will shrink geographically.  If there is a decrease in population density, the districts expand. Consequently, JPs must adjust to the resizing of their jurisdictions.  The work of making the decision on how the districts are designed rests with the County Election Commission.

The number of JPs in a county depends on the population density of that county. Fig. 1 shows the correlation between population and number of districts.

JP districts table

Fig. 1. Correlation between population density and number of JP districts.

Hempstead County, for example, has a population of 22,609 and therefore has 11 JPs. By dividing the population into the number of districts, one would get the number of people that each JP would ideally represent. In the case of Hempstead, each JP ideally represents 2,055 people.  Pulaski County has a population of 382,748, which means each of the 15 JPs represents 25,516 citizens in his or her district.

Secondly, county clerks must adapt voter data to all the other changes that occur as a result of redistricting. The changes are much deeper than just JPs. The State Legislature draws new congressional districts.  The Arkansas Board of Apportionment must draw new State House and Senate Districts.  City wards get reapportioned for city councils, and where applicable, school district board zones have to be redrawn following each decennial Census.  The potential changes in voter data in the system can lead up to an extraordinary amount of work for the County Clerk offices around the state.

To aid the analysis and technical aspect of the mapping work associated with drawing new districts, the Arkansas Geographic Information Office prepared a redistricting specification for the state. The specification was designed to be used by county election commissions, city councils or school boards. It includes technical information to aid in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis and mapping.  The hope is that when all the redistricting work is done, each file can be assembled to produce a seamless statewide map of JPs and other new districts drawn in the process.  

The above article was published in the May edition of County Lines magazine.

Here is the link to our previous Blog post which explains and links to the new redistricting specifications. Please note that the specifications are in template format, and must be modified to suit the needs of the city, county or school board it is intended for. For more information, contact Shelby Johnson at