Mississippi will not lose a congressional seat even though it was one of only three states to lose population during the past decade, according to early U.S. census data released this week.

State leaders had said for some time they did not believe the census would result in a loss of a congressional seat for Mississippi.

“We have a cushion, but if the trend (population loss) continues, it does not look good for the future” in terms of not losing a seat, said Mississippi House Apportionment and Elections Chair Jim Beckett, R-Bruce.

While the state will not lose a congressional seat, the Mississippi Legislature will have little time to redraw the state’s four congressional districts before the 2022 mid-term elections to match population shifts found during the 2020 Census.

The goal, both Beckett and Senate Apportionment Committee Chair Dean Kirby said, is to present a plan to redraw the four U.S. House districts to their legislative colleagues early in the 2022 session, which starts in January.

“We have to be ready to go when we first get there” to start the session, Kirby said. “That will be one of the first things we have to do.”

The reason for the need for swift action on congressional redistricting is because the deadline for candidates to qualify to run for the congressional seats is March 1. The primary election will be held June 7.

Both Kirby and Beckett said they do not anticipate trying to convince Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session to redraw the four congressional districts late this year before the 2022 session begins.

The intent, Beckett said, is to have nine public hearings across the state, most likely beginning in October, and later develop a redistricting plan to present in the 2022 session for approval.

While the preliminary census numbers were released this week, the final numbers that include the precinct-level data needed to redraw political districts, is not expected to be available to the states until September.

After both the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the Legislature was unable to agree on a plan to redraw the congressional districts. In 2000, the state lost a seat, making redistricting particularly contentious. In both 2000 and 2010, the federal courts ended up redrawing the districts.

READ MORE: Mississippi one of just three states to lose population since 2010

“Our intent is for the Legislature to draw the districts this time and not the courts,” Kirby said. “It is going to be an experience.”

Kirby said the most difficult part of the effort will be dealing with the loss of population in the 2nd Congressional District that encompasses much of western Mississippi, including the Delta. The 2nd is the state’s only African American majority district, represented by Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton.

Based on existing federal law, the state will have to maintain a Black-majority district, especially since the state’s African American population increased slightly, based on the census data.

While legislators will face a tight time frame on congressional redistricting, Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D-West Point, said, it is important to make sure “the districts are reflective of our population.” Turner Ford, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said she would be willing to spend the time needed to ensure that goal is met.

To deal with the population loss in the Delta, the Legislature may have to expand the 2nd District into fast-growing DeSoto County in northwest Mississippi or into the Natchez area in southwest Mississippi.

Overall, Beckett said, a few areas of the state — the Gulf Coast, an area stretching from DeSoto County east into Lafayette County and into the Tupelo area, and suburban Jackson — gained population, while the vast majority of counties lost people during the past decade.

The number of congressional seats also determines a state’s influence in electing the president. The number of electors a state has is equal to a state’s total number of senators and U.S. House members, meaning Mississippi has six electors to cast in presidential elections.

While the Legislature will need to pass a congressional redistricting plan early in the 2022 session, later in the year legislators will need to redraw the 122 House districts and 52 Senate district to match population shifts.

But legislators will have more time to complete that task since legislative elections will not be held until 2023. But since legislators will be redrawing their own districts, that process is likely to be more time consuming and potentially more contentious.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.