It’s Time to Stop Gerrymandering Latinos Out of Political Power ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 
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In the last decade, the nation’s Latino community boomed, growing by almost 12 million people and accounting for more than half of U.S. population growth. Yet across the country, map drawers are continuing a legacy of discrimination against Latinos by creating legislative and congressional maps that dilute Latino political power. As the Brennan Center’s Gabriella Limón writes, “Though the Latino population has grown and grown more diverse over the last 50 years, the pattern of discrimination remains strikingly unchanged. . . . Voters and advocates can challenge these maps in court. But they will be hampered by courts’ restrictive interpretation of voting rights laws and the ability for map drawers (after the Supreme Court’s greenlighting of partisan gerrymandering) to claim that Latinos were targeted for partisan reasons, not their ethnicity.”
With the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, Congress has the power to end these discriminatory practices. It is urgently incumbent that members of Congress wield it.
A decade ago, a federal court rejected Republicans’ radical redrawing of a state senate district in Fort Worth for discriminating against Black and Latino voters. But this decade, Republicans are back for a second bite at the apple. As Julia Boland, Michael Li, and Peter Miller write, Republicans “have thrown caution to the wind, passing an even more radical gerrymander of the district that once again targets the growing political power of communities of color.” As redrawn, minority voters in the existing district are ruthlessly divided, with the bulk of urban voters moved to a sprawling, mostly rural district that overwhelming favors Republican candidates.
So far, 15 states have completed drawing congressional maps and 19 states have completed legislative maps. The Brennan Center has released a tracker you can use to view new redistricting maps that have been approved across the states.
Featured Maps: Wicked Tough Choices in Massachusetts
Massachusetts lawmakers are receiving backlash from some residents and politicians for the way in which their proposed congressional map splits two cities. Currently, the city of Fall River, which has a large immigrant population, is split between two districts: MA-04, which stretches from the wealthier suburbs of greater Boston to the Rhode Island border, and MA-09, which contains New Bedford, another immigrant-heavy city. In the new maps proposed by legislators, all of Fall River is placed in MA-04 but is placed in a separate district from New Bedford. Some politicians argue that it makes more sense to have all of Fall River in one district, while immigrants-rights activists claim that the political power of neighboring immigrant-heavy communities would be diluted if the two cities are not housed in the same district. The debate is illustrative of the sometimes difficult choices mapmakers must make when prioritizing factors like communities of interest, population equity, and existing political boundaries.
Source: Massachusetts Legislature
Redistricting in the News
With a push on to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, RepresentUs has rolled out a hilarious new ad that shows how the bill’s provisions would help American democracy measure up to its potential.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Janai Nelson writes, “There is, perhaps, no more confounding influence on our political system than the intersection of race and party.” But Nelson says the confusion can be bridged, outlining a new framework that would have the courts consider racial and partisan gerrymandering claims combined, providing, “a doctrinal offramp from this looming political dystopia.”
Nelson’s article arose from a virtual symposium hosted by the Brennan Center in 2020. You can read more pieces from the symposium here.
The Urban Institute has published a report finding that while fears of a large census undercount may not have been fully realized, Black and Latino households and other hard-to-count communities nonetheless bore the brunt of the undercount. The Urban Institute proposes several measures that would improve the 2030 Census but noted that they would “require us to collectively recognize how critical it is to invest in the decennial census and value it as a core component of our democracy.”
Although the Minnesota legislature is tasked with drawing new congressional and legislative districts, redistricting has been left up to state courts for the past 40 years because legislators could not agree on maps. This cycle appears to be no different, as the state supreme court has appointed a five-judge panel that will draw the maps if legislators fail to compromise by February 15. Meanwhile, candidates across the state are announcing plans to run in 2022, even though they may end up residing in a different district once lines are drawn.
The North Carolina General Assembly recently approved new congressional and legislative maps that would dramatically favor Republicans. As the Atlantic’s David Graham writes, “North Carolina Republicans are doing this because it increases their power, and because they can.” Several groups filed lawsuits last week before the maps were even adopted, claiming the maps violate the Voting Rights Act and are intentionally discriminatory. Under the proposed maps, a third of the state senate’s Black senators would likely lose their seats, as would one of the state’s two Black members of Congress.
After the Ohio Redistricting Commission failed to pass congressional district maps before its deadline, Republican state legislators have now proposed a map that would split Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County into three parts and further entrench a Republican majority in the state’s congressional delegation. Currently, there are twelve Republican congressional districts and four Democratic districts, but under the proposed plan, only two seats would be safely Democratic, prompting accusations of partisan gerrymandering.
After Virginia's bipartisan redistricting commission virtually collapsed, the Virginia Supreme Court will now draw new congressional and legislative districts. The state’s legislative leaders from both parties have each provided the court with a list of mapmakers from which the court will choose two special masters, one from each list, who will draw the actual districts. Virginia Senate Democrats are now calling on the court to disqualify the three Republican nominees, deeming them “political operatives.”
Republican legislators in Utah have ignored the suggestions of the state’s advisory commission and proposed a map that would split the state’s capital into four congressional districts and strengthen the GOP’s advantage in congressional races. Utahns spent hours voicing their displeasure with the proposed congressional plan at a public hearing, but the legislature’s redistricting committee approved the plan along party lines.
Across the country, over a dozen states are putting reforms in place that would curb “prison gerrymandering,” a practice that counts incarcerated people in the place of their confinement rather than where they normally live, depriving their communities of resources and political power. While the new laws vary in how they plan on addressing prison gerrymandering, they amount to a dramatic change from the 2010 redistricting cycle, in which only two states had reforms in place that limited the practice.
You can read more on prison gerrymandering from the Brennan Center here.