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As U.S. minorities grow to the fifty percent mark, efforts to stifle their voting rights acccelerate.
Sara Sadhwani, one of 14 members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, has her task set out for her. Over the next few months Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly, and State Board of Equalization districts and cities will be adjusting their boundaries to reflect the 2020 Census data. Sara and her Commission are charged with drawing the political boundaries that reflect the new diverse, biracial, more urban/suburban than rural America. They will have to ensure the redistricting is done fairly, that communities of color get a seat at the table of governance and their voices are not muted.
The census tells our American story since the first survey was conducted in 1790. It’s a count of everyone living in the United States, regardless of background, immigration status or citizenship. It paints a picture of who we are, ensures our political representation and ensures funding for the fundamentals of our lives.
The 2020 Census revealed an increasingly diverse America. It’s getting closer to being less than fifty percent white non hispanic.
“Non-Hispanic, white Americans made up 58% of the nation’s population,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic Research at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center at a recent Ethnic Media Services panel presentation. “That is the lowest share that we’ve seen for white non-Hispanic in the United States, ever.”
“The nation has steadily changed over the course of the last five decades,” Lopez said. “The big story here is that there are about 5 million fewer white Americans. 32 states saw their populations rise, but within those states, the White non-Hispanic population fell. Their populations became more diverse.” Meanwhile, the number of Americans who said they are of two or more races also increased (34 million).
Based on these data, political boundaries will be redrawn at the national, state, and local levels over the next several months.
Districts will adjust to reflect the demographic changes that have occurred so that growing Black, Latino, Asian and Native communities that have historically faced discrimination, have an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidate.
California has been a white minority state since 2000 (the US Census), Non-Hispanic whites decreased from about 76.3–78% of the state’s population in 1970 to 36.5% in 2019.
In 2000 the racial makeup of the nine-county Bay Area was 50 percent non-Hispanic white, in 2010 the Bay Area was 42.4 percent non-Hispanic white and in 2020 the Bay Area was 34.7% non-Hispanic white.
The trends could fuel more calls for diversity among elected officials, and the data will inform a contentious Congressional redistricting process.
The U.S. mainland’s only Asian-majority congressional district District 17 is in California’s Silicon Valley. It is currently represented by Ro Khanna.
California will redraw its congressional district maps in response to the 2020 census. To see updates click here. San Jose is getting ready to redraw its 10 City Council districts—and will decide whether some populations should be grouped together based on common interests. The Zoom link for public hearings is: https://sanjoseca.zoom.us/j/97678000504.
With California losing a congressional seat for the first time in its history, many political observers are watching which region — and which incumbent politicians — may be disadvantaged by the new maps. The lost district is likely to come out of Los Angeles County, which grew at a slower pace than other parts of the state.
Sara Sadhwani is working hard to ensure a fair outcome. To ensure fairness she invites participation, “We need your input on how to draw the political boundaries to empower and optimize civic participation! @WeDrawTheLines”
“California, Colorado, Michigan and Arizona have independent commissions. It is too late for states who don’t have independent commissions in place to do so now,” said Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School at the EMS briefing.
It is therefore imperative that Congress set up powerful safeguards and legal tools that advocates can use in court to police redistricting. To safeguard our right to vote, two bills currently in Congress — For the People Act (S1), and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both with strong bipartisan support, aim to counterbalance voter suppression initiatives.
To fully protect against racial discrimination at the ballot box and to ensure that every voice and vote counts, Congress must pass both laws,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, Interim Executive Vice President for Government Affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
On Aug. 24, the House of Representatives approved the John Lewis Act that among other things, seeks to restore section V of the Voting Rights Act that gave the Department of Justice the power to review any proposed legal changes in states with a history of discrimination against voters of color. In the Senate it faces strong Republican opposition.The “For the People Act” was also approved in the House and action is expected on it in the Senate in September.
This bill addresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government. Specifically, the bill expands voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (e.g., vote-by-mail and early voting). It also limits removing voters from voter rolls.
The bill requires states to establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting.
It is imperative that these bills pass into law to ensure citizen’s right to vote.
“There are political forces that view the fact that this country is becoming a pluralistic and multi racial one as an existential threat. Democracy itself is being narrowed to exclude certain members of our community,” said Yurij Rudensky.
Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.