By Rhiannon Koh, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Though people of color constitute eight in ten new voters, voting rights advocates fear their voices are being undermined in southern states. Ethnic Media Services recently hosted an online briefing to discuss these patterns.
States like Arizona and California rely on independent commissions to draw up legislative and congressional lines, but others like Florida and Texas grant that privilege to the incumbent political party. This leaves room for abuse as one party controls everything, be it, Republican or Democrat.
“The North Carolina legislature holds complete authority for statewide redistricting,” said Kyle Brazile, Director of Civic Engagement of the NC Counts Coalition. “And so, there is no commission, the governor has no authority to veto. [The] legislature can pass their resolutions to determine the districts and often, as we’re seeing right now, the only recourse to unfair process and unfair maps is litigation.”
Brazile, whose job is to ensure that communities stay informed and have a say in their futures, noted how exclusionary the redistricting process can be.
“We had 3 business days to prepare for public hearings on the criteria that the legislature would adopt. With just those few days, the hearing itself was in the middle of the day, it did not allow for input from across the state. Only a handful of folks were able to arrive and provide meaningful input,” he said.
The NC Counts Coalition alleges the legislature ignored public input. The criteria adopted did not allow the consideration of any racial or demographic information. Brazile said that the North Carolina legislature also appeared to prioritize the incumbent’s home address over communities of interest.
Like the rest of the country, North Carolina experienced exponential growth in its Latinx and Asian American populations. These increases created both additional congressional seats and votes on the electoral college. These demographic shifts meant nothing in the final outcome, voting advocates said.
“Incumbent protections don’t allow for districts to change,” Brazile explained. “Because you end up districting around an incumbent and not around the changing demographics of the actual area.”
Iliana Santillán, Executive Director of the NC-based, nonprofit El Pueblo, also echoed Brazile’s concerns on the transparency of the redistricting process. The decennial census is what drives the redistricting process, but some of its questions regarding citizenship can be particularly worrisome for many undocumented residents. Santillán also remarked that there was a lack of interpreters and Spanish resources that could educate the community on how they could get involved.
Michael Li, a senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, likened the relationship between voter suppression and redistricting as two sides of the same coin. He said, “Even if you’re able to vote, then the question becomes, ‘Does your vote really matter?’ And in the examples we’ve seen, your vote really doesn’t because the result has already been predetermined.”
“Redistricting is like a nuclear bomb that goes off and levels everything in its path,” Li continued. “It’s a much more potent form of voter suppression because communities of color will be locked out of power over the course of a decade.”
In Texas, for example, the TX-4 is a proposed congressional district that would carve up the multiethnic neighborhoods of Collin County. This would divide the community and diminish their voting power, and essentially allow White voters control over the district’s elections, he said.
Evan Milligan, the Executive Director of Alabama Forward, emphasized the critical role of redistricting in the democratic process.
“We want to make sure that Alabama is presenting the message that it’s anchored in this country’s democratic traditions. This is not about the mechanics of civic institutions. This is about our survival, the survival of our democratic traditions, and redistricting is one component of that,” said Milligan.
When asked what recourses are available to communities that feel the maps are unfair, Li said, “Unfortunately, the laws that protect minority communities and redistricting have been weakened over the years by courts—unless Congress steps in.”
Though litigation remains the go-to form of protest, Li also cited time as a tool for coalition building. Li mentioned Michigan’s badly drawn maps from the 2010 census and the subsequent ballot initiative that created the state’s independent redistricting commission.
All four speakers warned against collective cynicism and stressed the role local governance can have in the democratic process. Brazile and Milligan concluded, “We can’t overlook what goes on locally. The portion of this work has to be connected to our communities… we can never give up state-level organizing and place all our hopes in a federal basket.”
- Redistricting Resources by Common Cause
- All About Redistricting by Loyola Marymount University’s Law School
- Alabama Groups that Have Launched Legal Challenges to Racial Gerrymandering
Potential Federal Reforms
- The Freedom to Vote Act (S.2747) which would ban gerrymandering and provide stronger protections for communities of color, among other conditions.
- John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4), which a new Section 5 pre-clearance formula that would include states like Alabama, California, New York, and Texas.
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