Tag Archives: redistricting

Redistricting Will Reflect The Diverse Face Of America

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.


 

Redistricting Strangles Voices in Minority Communities

Redistricting silences communities who cannot ask for help

Harbir Kaur Bhatia ran for City Council (District 1) in Santa Clara in the 2020 general election because minority voices in her district were not adequately represented. She told IC that the Asian Law Alliance sued the city after the post-Census 2010 redistricting because it did not give people of color or grassroots leaders in her district (45.6% of Asian origin) a chance to run or to win.

“When we have such a large population of voters we have a very powerful voice,” said Bhatia but, “there was a lack of minority voices or perspectives.”

Redistricting draws boundaries that determine whether a community’s voice gets heard

In its most basic form said Nina Perales, VP of Litigation at MALDEF , “redistricting is just about drawing lines on a map to represent who is going to vote for certain elected officials.” From time to time a district’s boundaries are redrawn following a census. Certain neighborhoods are grouped together in types of districts essentially to create groups of voters.

Drawing lines on a map is “a very political act”, so it’s important for communities to get involved and become part of the process, added Perales.

At an EMS briefing on June 30, in partnership with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Houston In Action, and Mi Familia Vota, advocates explored how redistricting has traditionally discriminated against communities of color and low-income neighborhoods.

 Redistricting makes community invisible to the powers that be

Texan Myrtala Tristan shared a cautionary tale about how redistricting discriminates against communities of color.

A 35 year resident of Lakewood – a suburb of Houston – Tristan’s neighborhood was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. As a river of water swept down her street and flooded her home, no help was forthcoming from the authorities. Her district said Tristan was not represented in local government and had no political clout. When the hurricane hit there was no alert to evacuate, no phone response to calls for help. Tristan and her husband waded to safety on their own and were eventually transported by an 18 wheel truck to a shelter.  “People started falling off the truck into the water, older folk, kids,” recounted Tristan. No food or water was supplied at the stadium where evacuees were held. In the aftermath of the hurricane, when her community desperately needed help to recover,  there was no response from the government to appeals and claims for assistance.

 Redistricting discriminates against communities of color

Perales explained that in racially segregated Pasadena (TX),  Latino populations concentrated in the north side receive fewer services than the south side where Anglos have control. When it rains said Perales, flooding occurs in the north side, but flood control measures are in place to safeguard the southern part of the district. The Texas House of Representatives split neighborhoods in the north for political purposes, so while the north side was represented in city government, but not at the state level.

Lines were redrawn after litigation following the 2010 census to ensure neighborhoods stayed intact, allow more Latinos to register to vote, and elect officials who represented their growing numbers (Latino population grew by almost 2.8 million in the 2010 Census). As a direct result, the district elected Mary Ann Perez, a progressive Latina woman to the House of Representatives, replacing the conservative Anglo who previously held the seat.

“Our growth and increased political participation are strongest when the political lines that are drawn around our neighborhoods are fair,” said Perales. ”So redistricting is a time where we need to be very involved and very vigilant…so that we can ensure that our growth, registration and votes are fairly reflected in political lines.”

Immigration and natural family growth are increasing AAPI and Latino populations in Texas, said Perales, so it’s important to look at redistricting as a  fair representation of what neighborhoods look like today.

Who controls the redistricting process?

Responsibility for redrawing political lines varies by state and local government, and intent.

In Texas, city councils are responsible for redrawing lines in cities which have elections by district, while school boards of trustees control school district boundaries, and county commissioners redraw district lines for the county

The Texas Legislature controls boundaries that will determine political representation for congressional seats, state house representatives, state senate and state board of education. Currently, Republicans have the house, senate, and governorship, resulting in a one-party Trifecta that controls how the state’s boundaries are drawn. “Don’t pass up an opportunity,” urged Perales, to engage in local redistricting processes– city, school board, and county –and influence decision making at the local level that impacts the quality of life in communities.

“It can make the difference to the schools -to-prison pipeline policies within school districts,  or a neighborhood park in the minority side of town.”

Activists are fighting to make redistricting fair

“You don’t have to be a citizen or registered voter to participate in local redistricting,” confirmed advocate Debbie Chan of OCA Greater Houston. The census includes every resident, regardless of immigration status or ethnicity, so districts have to represent that count in its redistricting to ensure that public services (schools, roads, hospitals) match community needs. She encouraged communities “to pay attention at the local level because that’s where it’s going to impact everyone immediately.”  Federal dollars that are redistributed into communities is our tax money added Chen, so we need to have a say in how budgets are spent.

Fair Opportunity Maps

Advocates are focusing on the equitable distribution of tax dollars among minority groups in communities: Is funding going towards fixing potholes, open sewers, broken streetlights, or damaged sidewalks? Is money allocated to fix problems and who is making that decision on how money gets spent?

Chan referred to ‘cracking and packing’ – a process that splits communities of interest into sections which limit their political clout, or consolidating them into groups that give them opportunities for a better chance of representation. Opportunity maps are evenly balanced and give multiple communities an even chance to elect someone who has the best ideas for everyone, not just the community of interest.

Discriminatory redistricting after Census 2010 ‘packed’ districts 137 and 149 “like a can of sardines”, said Chan, specifically to prevent them from having opportunity districts for minority candidates to run for office. API communities successfully fought back against with a lawsuit that allowed allow two Asian Americans to run and win in those districts.

Advocates are demanding transparency in the redistricting process to give communities an opportunity to offer input. They are calling for public display of maps, public hearings, and translation services so immigrants and those with limited English proficiency have their voices included as decisions are made.


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents


 

De-Colonizing the System: The Core Divisiveness Between Minorities

I grew up in an environment where my grasp of English determined my intelligence and the colour of my skin determined my beauty. Undermining those with ‘heavy Indian accents’ or a dark brown skin tone were a part of the Indian mindset that what must be eventually achieved is “whiteness”. I attempted to be as white as possible with my brown skin. 

When I came to America as a kid, I did not know much about systemic racism. It was a distant concept that I had not tackled in India. In my first week living in America, I was called so many names and racial slurs. I realized I knew of a very different world. Whiteness did not mean intelligence or perfection like I had previously believed. The white man has conned us. 

At an Ethnic Media services briefing on March 26th, a few distinguished speakers gathered to discuss and explain the process of redistricting in the US. 

Redistricting is the redrawing of political district boundaries – the boundaries of a district are redrawn to account for a relatively equal population and to have better representation in that community or district. 

EMS panelist, Thomas A. Saenz stated, “Redistricting is the redrawing of district lines not just for Congress, but also for state legislatures, also for local bodies like city councils, county boards, boards of education, community college boards. Where those systems elect their representatives by district, rather than at large.” He further went on to state the reason for redistricting: “In the 1960s, the U.S Supreme Court concluded that each state and each locality must redraw their lines after the census to make the districts relatively equal in population.” 

Once every ten years, after the census— the official count of the population— the district lines are redrawn to create a relatively equal population in each district and also have a better representation of people of colour in these districts and offices. This means that people of colour can engage and actively participate in communities and vote from city councils to legislative areas, it also helps create a better environment for minorities in their day-to-day lives. 

Despite all these beautiful laws that should be protecting minorities, in the 2020 Census, the Trump administration was trying to change the way data was collected for the census from total population to citizenship population. This would mean that people under the age of 18, illegal immigrants, and any non-citizens in the U.S would not be counted in the census and lead to drastic misrepresentation.

The people that minorities may seek validation from are not even willing to count them as part of the population or have them represent a community in American society. 

San Jose Districting (Courtesy of University of Maryland’s T-Races project)

Leah C. Aden, who currently serves as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), stated that the next round of redistricting will be a struggle because in 2013, the Supreme Court “immobilized section 5 of the voting rights act.” This was a provision that stated some states require federal approval prior to redistricting, just to make sure that there was proper representation of people of colour as those states had elected officials who would finish the voice of POC to come up in power. But now, due to the immobilization, places like Georgia, or Texas, or Louisiana, will not need federal approval, potentially making it worse off for communities of colour.

The speakers at the EMS briefing gave concrete examples of how people of colour can be affected negatively in every community. The constant need to push out people of colour from finding equality and comfort in communities is just perturbing. 

It’s been a series of events, the way white supremacy has constantly pitted people of colour against each other while simultaneously driving them out of political places that influence their daily lives. 

I’ve seen Black people and Native American people scream on top of their lungs and seen Asian and Latino communities having to protest all day, just to be considered human. I’ve seen the privileged find comfort in their privilege and only raise their voice if the privilege isn’t extended to them. This year has perhaps been one of the biggest eye-openers…

As people of colour a lot of us feel tired. But I urge you to accept and love and define your own self. I urge you to unlearn the ideologies that have been instilled in you and learn that you are enough because you exist. You deserve respect because you are human. I urge you to decolonize your mind. To engage in communities and be the representation in society you want to see. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

The Census? It’s Not Over Yet!

On October 13, the US Supreme Court granted an appeal from the Trump administration to halt Census2020 on Oct 31, in a shocking reversal that will end the count sooner than expected. An earlier injunction by a California District court had allowed an extension because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

The decision left states and census advocates scrambling to meet an impossible December 31 deadline to review, process, tabulate and report census reapportionment and redistricting data.

This means that the Census Bureau has just six weeks – not six months – before delivering apportionment counts to the President.

What Will Happen
What’s likely to happen is that the final enumeration will be inaccurate. Historically hard to count populations -minorities, people of color, and marginalized communities – will be undercounted in the final tabulation.

That, in turn, will impact the distribution of resources – funding for roads, schools, hospitals, food assistance and health services – that vulnerable communities rely on. The consequences for marginalized communities are dire. The pandemic has already restricted their use of safety net resources, but an undercount will threaten their access to those resources for the next decade.

Pushback against the new ruling has been swift.

Justice Sotomayor, dissenting from the grant of stay, wrote that “The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years.”

Civil rights advocates say it blatantly disrupts a census count that has been ten years in the making. They denounced the Trump Administration’s countless efforts to sabotage the census for political gain, calling the ruling a dismaying decision that “undermines American livelihoods as well as our democratic system.”

Census advocates echoed this view at a briefing hosted by The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights and Ethnic Media Services on October 20.

“Everyone in America regardless of political affiliation or ethnicity, should be deeply troubled by the President’s attempt to undermine and misrepresent data from the 2020 Census,” said John Yang, President & Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).

Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League which spearheaded litigation against the Trump directives, called the Supreme Court a ‘willing co-conspirator’ that has “aided, abetted, facilitated” the administration’s effort to politically interfere with the census….and to cheat the American people of their constitutional right to representation.”

The Constitution is clear. It mandates that ‘all persons’ – not all citizens – must be included in the decennial census and in the apportionment count. Advocates at the briefing called Trump’s executive order an attempt to amend the US Constitution.

Impact of the Ruling
The ruling underscores historic attempts to erase undercounted communities from the census and ongoing efforts by the Administration to keep non-citizens off the decennial.

Up next is a Supreme Court hearing of a Trump directive that seeks to exclude non-citizens from the congressional apportionment. Earlier, a ruling by federal judges in New York found the executive order unlawful.

These legal challenges undermine the democratic process on which our country was founded, said panelists. A flawed count will affect apportionment – redistricting legislative districts based on newest population counts and redistributing seats to represent those districts in the House of Representatives. In undercounted areas, marginalized communities risk losing fair representation in government.

What’s at stake is the constitutional intent of the count.

How Census2020 played out
Census officials have planned Census2020 for ten years. When COVID19  hit, they outlined a timeline to ensure they would reach an accurate count during the pandemic.

The Bureau spent over $6.3 billion on a campaign to get the count out.  It bolstered partnerships with community organizations and civil rights groups at national and local levels to encourage participation in the census.

“The Administration’s refusal to let Census Bureau experts determine the best schedule for completing the count and reporting results really created enormous chaos and confusion in the field,” said Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference.

Census2020 is one of the largest decennials, but the run up to its final count has been buffeted by natural disasters and an unrelenting pandemic, making it the most difficult of enumerations.

“We have worked so hard to push our communities to participate in the census and tell them how it will benefit their lives,” said Yang, so rushing to transmit apportionment data to the President by December 31, completely undermines those efforts.

Minority communities will take the fall
Experts agreed that rushing the census will shortchange minority communities.

Historically, self-response rates from communities of color nationwide tend to be lower than non-Hispanic white and US self-response rates. Latinos, tribal areas, Blacks and swathes of Asian residents need more targeted outreach – “more door knocking enumeration” – which requires extra time.

Panelists called a Census Bureau statement that it had topped 99% completion rates ‘a myth’. That rate only refers to households on the address list, but do not indicate if all householders were included or completed the census forms. “Do not be fooled,” warned Morial, “if there was fake news, this is it!”

The perils of an undercount include overcrowding in schools and hospitals, and congestion on roads. It will put communities in a tough spot that will be hard to recover from. Hastily tabulated data will harm the nation, but that risk falls disproportionately on communities of color.

“Make no mistake about it. There has never been an accurate count of Latinos in a decennial,” said Arturo Vargas, CEO of NALEO, referring to historical interference that has denied Latino participation in the census, whether it was asking Latino immigrants to boycott the census, or barring their inclusion in it. “The odds are consistently against a census that fully includes all (almost 60 million) Latinos.”

Morial pointed out that “The Black population count was already in jeopardy from the start,” because African American communities have not even reached the national self-response rate of 68%.

In Indian country, that rate is 25% below the national average, said Kevin Allis, Leader of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), arguing that his community is invisible to the rest of the country. In 2010, Indian country suffered an undercount twice the national average.

Allis also pointed out that the federal government has a treaty and trust responsibility owed to tribal nations (covering infrastructure, health and education and economic development), in exchange for millions of acres that tribal nations ceded to the US for settlement. Chronic underfunding has created disparities in Indian country. A census that falls short, will further decimate the funding and representation promised in those treaties, warned Allis.

It’s not over yet
“It would be a mistake for anyone in the public or the media to think that the Census is over,” said Gupta. What is over is the data collection process from a 150 million housing units. In the next phase, the Bureau will process raw data to produce a count that accurately reflects every US community. Data will determine the distribution of real resources in neighborhoods.

It’s a massive and complex undertaking that needs time, says Census Bureau experts (the Gov. Accountability Office and the Commerce Department’s Inspector General).

Rushing the census will force the Bureau to cut corners and compress vital quality checks that could skew data and create errors, advised Gupta. “The ramifications will last decades.”

The data processing phase is crucial to ‘fill in the blanks’  added Vargas. Checks and remediation are needed to ensure that forms are complete, all household members included, and to fix erroneous and duplicate responses. It requires meaningful consultation with stakeholders to deal with disclosure avoidance systems and make sure nobody is left behind.

Flawed data will lead to flawed decisions that harm everyone, warned Allis.

It takes time to integrate quality indicators that measure and translate census data into accurate apportionment counts. If you erase people from the census, the domino effect at play will see federal programs and fair elections start to fall.

Political interference has reduced a six month process to two, and that will undermine the integrity of the count, so we need to “excise politics from the process,” urged Morial.

The Bottom Line
Without an extension, millions of people will be left out of the count. That includes people in rural and tribal lands, people of color, people with low incomes and people experiencing homelessness.

“In a lot of ways this has always been the Trump administration’s goal, from the failed citizenship question, to Trump’s unconstitutional memo to erase undocumented immigrants from the count. The administration has been trying over and over again to dictate who counts in this country,” stated Gupta.

Congress Must Act to Salvage the Census
There isn’t a clear roadmap ahead if the Census Bureau is forced to produce an inaccurate count.

Advocates at the briefing urged Congress to take immediate steps to reset the course of the census and stave off damage that could last the next ten years. They suggested the public put pressure on congressional delegations to free the census of political and partisan interference going forward.

The Leadership Conference has endorsed  a bipartisan bill to save the census, and asked Congress to push back the reporting deadlines by 120 days each – extending the reapportionment deadline from December 31 to April 1, 2021, and the redistricting deadline from April 1 to July 1, 2021.

“Congress has to set a clear path forward” Gupta added, because it is their constitutional responsibility to protect the integrity and accuracy of census data.

“Look. The decennial census sets a standard for data quality that must be preserved,” said Yang. “It should be something the US Census Bureau achieves without interference.”


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photocredit: Photopin