Arkansas state government is full of yawn-inducing agency names, none more so than “Board of Apportionment.” But its work has as much to do with who gets elected as anything that happens in political campaigns.

Composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, the board is in charge of drawing state legislative lines after each census – a job that is being delayed this time because of COVID-19’s disruptions. The state Legislature is in charge of drawing the lines for the U.S. Congress.

The Board held its first meeting Monday, but it can’t do much until those census numbers are released. We may not know until as late as Sept. 30, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. That’s a problem because current elected officials and prospective candidates don’t know who they would represent and who they might run against.

We do have overall state numbers. The population has increased 3.3 percent since 2010 to a little more than 3 million.

That gain wasn’t enough to increase the size of Arkansas’ four-member U.S. House delegation. (It was as high as seven until after the 1940 census.) Seven states will lose one seat because of population shifts. If 89 more New Yorkers had been counted, that state would have kept all its seats while Minnesota lost one. That’s one reason why answering the census is important.

We know how many people the census counted in Arkansas, but we’re still waiting to learn who lives where.

Here’s a spoiler alert: More and more of them are in the northwest corner and central Arkansas. As a result, the 3rd District in Northwest Arkansas and the 2nd in central Arkansas will shrink geographically because each House district must have roughly the same population.

The 3rd will rightsize the most. The horseshoe-shaped district starts in Fort Smith, splits Alma and Crawford County both in two, encompasses the state’s northwestern corner including Washington (Fayetteville) and Benton (Bentonville) Counties, heads east across the northern border and then plunges down to Russellville.

It’s shaped like this because the districts were drawn in 2010 by a Democratic majority holding on for dear life. Democrats actually unsuccessfully tried to stick Fayetteville in the 4th District, where it has no business being, hoping to keep the 4th in the party’s hands.

This time, there will be no doubt that Benton and Washington Counties will continue to form the 3rd’s core. In fact, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, who represents the area, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that someday those two counties will compose the entire district.

For now, the argument will be over who joins them. As reported by the Southwest Times Record, Fort Smith Mayor George McGill really wants that city to remain in the state’s fastest growing and wealthiest district. He has an ally in Hutchinson, who agrees with him and lived in Fort Smith when he represented the 3rd in Congress.

If Fort Smith stays in the 3rd, then Russellville and the eastern part of the horseshoe presumably will be absorbed into the 1st (eastern and northern Arkansas) and/or the 4th (southern and western Arkansas). Both districts are losing population relative to the rest of the state and will have to grow geographically.

In purplish states where the two parties are competitive, redistricting can determine the balance of power. During the 2010 elections, Republicans across the country poured resources into winning state legislative races and then drew maps favoring their party after the census. Such “gerrymandering” is almost as old as the republic, but technology has made it a science. As a result, Republicans have won more seats than they would have based on their vote totals alone.

Arkansas is not purple. Republicans own all four congressional seats and control 78 percent of the Legislature. The party is so dominant that it doesn’t need to gerrymander. Hopefully the focus will be on drawing lines that make the most sense.

One thing to watch will be how redistricting affects sitting state legislators. An incumbent can be drawn into a safer district or placed into one that’s more competitive. Two incumbents can be drawn into the same district and forced to face each other.

All of that will have to wait until maybe Sept. 30. Regardless of the political considerations, you can’t draw the lines until you know where people live.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.