Now that the final 2010 Census numbers are out, the real work — and the real politicking — can begin on redrawing districts for every elected body from local school boards to Congress. Some new district boundaries will be easy, but most will be difficult.
Drawing legislative districts will be the most problematic for area lawmakers, because to them falls the unfortunate task of carving up themselves and one another. State lawmakers begin a three-week redistricting session March 20.
Orleans and St. Bernard parishes lost huge swaths of residents, which will seriously undercut both parishes' legislative clout. Jefferson Parish saw a small but significant decline. St. Tammany Parish grew by more than 22 percent.
Here's how the numbers shake out:
• New Orleans' population declined by roughly 141,000, or 29 percent. Of that number, more than 118,000 were black and more than 24,000 were white. The city gained more than 3,200 Hispanics. Overall, the city is still majority black — 60 percent — but the voting-age black population comprises a smaller majority at 56 percent. Factoring in turnout differentials and increased crossover voting patterns, these numbers explain a lot about post-Katrina election results.
• Jefferson Parish's population dropped by some 23,000 but became more diverse. Jefferson lost 56,000 white residents but gained 9,000 blacks and more than 21,000 Hispanics and some 2,600 Asians. Whites now comprise only 56 percent of Jefferson's total population; minorities now make up the other 44 percent. Nearly 26 percent of Jefferson's population is African-American.
• St. Bernard Parish's population fell by nearly 47 percent, from more than 67,000 to just under 36,000. Overall, St. Bernard lost 32,000 white residents and gained 1,000 blacks, but remains more than two-thirds white. The new proportions suggest the Parish Council could gain one minority member. Blacks comprise slightly less than 18 percent of the parish's population now. St. Bernard's council currently consists of seven white males.
• St. Tammany Parish grew by more than 42,000 residents representing every ethnic group: 25,000 more whites, 7,600 more blacks, 6,200 more Hispanics and 1,500 more Asians. The Northshore is the only part of the metro area that will gain legislative strength when new districts are drawn.
Speaking of new districts, the process of drawing new boundaries will be as bloody as it gets. The ideal new House district will have about 43,000 residents and the perfect Senate district around 116,000. Courts historically allow a 5 percent variance.
Overlay those numbers on the new population metrics and you get something like this:
• New Orleans will lose at least one but probably not two Senate seats — depending on how the lines are drawn. Several current legislative districts cross parish lines. The city likely will lose three House seats.
That's a serious decline in legislative strength, particularly for the Legislative Black Caucus. The caucus has seen a significant loss in recent years, during which black candidates lost to whites in a handful of majority-black local districts. This shows that turnout and crossover voting affect election results at least as much as population and voter registration.
• Jefferson will lose the equivalent of half a House seat, but possibly gain a black-majority House district (or two), and it could lose one senator — depending on how the lines are drawn. Jefferson has several Senate districts that cross parish lines (Sen. Julie Quinn's sprawling district touches four parishes).
• St. Bernard will go from anchoring one Senate district and having two parish-based House members to being a minority of a Senate district and supporting less than one complete House district.
• St. Tammany will gain at least a House district and possibly one senator.
Let the games begin.