Residents and activists packed into the Jackson City Council chambers to voice concern over the council’s plan to redraw the boundaries of the capital city’s seven wards, leaving standing room only at the June 17 meeting.

Ward 6 City Councilman Aaron Banks said the council decided to open the redistricting conversations up to the public this year, rather than work behind closed doors with consultants on how to redraw the maps as they had previously done.

“What we’ve done for the first time is have a public hearing,” Banks told the group. “If you go back and look, there has not been a public hearing. This time we wanted to do it a little differently.”

The June 17 public hearing followed two open special council meetings where the council publicly discussed and planned how they wanted to redraw the wards. They held the first meeting on May 28 and the second meeting on June 3 at the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District office in Pearl, Miss.

Community members were allowed to attend both meetings, which the City live-streamed on its Facebook page.

From those meetings, the council developed four map designs that could potentially be the city’s new ward boundaries.

As residents filed into the council chambers on June 17, a few took a moment to analyze the four maps the council drew after their first two meetings.

During the public hearing, community members and voting-rights advocates stepped to the podium to voice concern that the council was rushing the process, adding that they didn’t think residents across the city had adequate time to participate.

‘These Maps Could Change Who Your Representative Is’

To comply with legal statutes, including the Voting Rights Act, the Jackson City Council must redraw—or redistrict—the boundaries of the city’s wards before the 2025 election to accurately reflect the wards’ populations.

“The principle of this is so that one person has one vote, and every vote has the same weight,” a fact sheet from the Mississippi ACLU states. The Legislature has already handled redistricting on the state level, including for congressional districts and state legislative seats, following the 2020 Census.

Residents looking at a map of City of Jackson working ward plan option 3
The Jackson City Council held a public hearing at City Hall on June 17, 2024, to get feedback from residents about proposed ward maps. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Jackson’s council members are also redistricting based on Census data that reveals changes in Jackson’s population over the last decade; the council is now tasked with balancing the ward populations.

While some wards, such as Ward 1 have seen population growth, others, like Ward 5, have seen a loss in residents, WLBT reported on June 3.

In a June 20 interview with the Crirec, Southern Poverty Law Center State Director Waikinya Clanton noted that redistricting is a normal process that cities must undertake every decade after the census.

Headshot of a woman with short hair, thick-rimmed glasses and wearing a raspberry colored top
Southern Poverty Law Center State Director Waikinya Clanton said in an interview with the Crirec on June 20, 2024, that before council members vote on new ward maps, Jackson residents need time to understand how redistricting may affect their community. Photo courtesy Southern Poverty Law Center

“Part of the census process is to ensure that each ward, each district, each territory, is redistricted equally,” said Clanton, along with several other voting-rights advocates who attended the meeting.

Although Ward 6 City Councilman Aaron Banks said Monday he wanted to give residents access to the process, the discourse at the meeting, Clanton said, revealed residents’ uneasiness about the timeline.

New ward boundaries could mean that some citizens would have new representation or that voting precincts could change before the next election. “They need time to know and understand that,” Clanton said. 

“These maps could change who your representative is; it could change or dilute your political power, depending on how they’re drawn,” she continued. “We want to make sure there’s equity in the process. That comes with the process. That’s not exclusive to Jackson.”

‘This Is About Voters, Not Real Estate’

At the June 17 public hearing in Jackson, Ward 6 City Councilman Aaron Banks emphasized that the purpose of the redistricting process is to ensure voters have equal representation; it is not a tool for council members to acquire real estate across the city.

“This has nothing to do with real estate, it has to do with voters and their representation,” the council president said.

Banks’ disclaimer came weeks after a heated discussion on June 3, 2024, between Ward 5 City Councilman Vernon Hartley and Ward 7 City Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay regarding property value in downtown Jackson.

A man in a dark suit with periwinkle tie talking at a mic and pointing to the left
Ward 6 City Councilman Aaron Banks apologized to community members gathered during a redistricting public hearing at City Hall in Jackson, Miss., on June 17, 2024. “If it seems like we tried to do this behind closed doors and to rush it, that is not the case,” Banks said. File photo by Imani Khayyam / Courtesy Jackson Free Press

Hartley’s ward is one area of the capital city that has declined in population since 2010. “It wouldn’t behoove us in Ward 5 to go after other communities that are continuing to lose population,” Hartley said during a redistricting meeting at the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District office. “We need that stability. So that’s what I’m aiming for, along with tying in parts of downtown and also getting a more stable area.”

Hartley then questioned Lindsay directly about the commercial real estate in her ward.

“Why is it that all these large buildings … that is what you’re not willing to compromise on?” he asked. “All these things that are (profitable), you’ve got all of downtown. You’ve been sitting on all of downtown for years.”

Lindsay responded by saying that the constituents of Ward 7 are pleased with her representation.

People speak towards a camera while holding signs that says Poor People's Campaign, and 3rd Reconstruction
Poor People’s Campaign activist Danyelle Holmes, pictured (front left) at a June 7, 2021 press conference in Bolton, Miss., scolded Jackson City Councilman Vernon Hartley for his June 3, 2024, comments regarding redistricting his ward. Photo courtesy Poor People’s Campaign.

During the public hearing at City Hall on June 17, activist and Ward 1 resident Danyelle Holmes scolded Hartley for his comments. “That’s very, very problematic, Councilman Hartley,” Holmes said.

“Whenever you take a position to run for office, you know the constituents that you’re signed up to represent,” she continued. “At no time is it OK for anyone to utter out of their mouth about poor constituents. Race and class should not be a deciding factor to redrawing these lines. It’s sick to even hear those words. If poor people make you that sick, then perhaps you don’t need to be on the ballot come 2025 because that’s who you represent.”

Several councilmembers said they planned to host additional meetings in their wards before the maps are redrawn to get more feedback from residents.

Banks apologized to residents for confusion over the council’s process and timeline.

“If it seems like we tried to do this behind closed doors and to rush it, that is not the case. … I apologize if maybe I should have found a better way—our budget is tight already but—a better way to advertise other than what we knew to do. But I did want to make sure that we open this process up.”

Capital City reporter Shaunicy Muhammad has an enduring interest in social-justice issues, class inequality, Africana studies and cultural storytelling.

Her educational background includes a journalism degree from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. Her time as an undergraduate student culminated with the production of the senior research project “Black Unrest, Riots and How Newspapers Frame the Narrative of African American Social Protest,” which analyzed patterns in the narratives reporters used when explaining the social unrest and uprisings after the deaths of Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

She is reporting on the capital city with a year-long focus on causes, effects and solutions for systemic inequities in South Jackson, supported by a grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Email her at [email protected].