Latinos need to push for political redistricting

12 04 2010

By: Jesus Garcia, Special to MÁS

Mandated by Article I of the Constitution; 1872 Reapportionment Act and 1964 Voter Rights Act, states are required to conduct the once a decade process of realigning political boundaries known as redistricting.

Under the principle of “One Person, One Vote,” states utilize Decennial Census data to create new Congressional districts that are supposed to be “contiguous and compact” and have “as practicable an equal number of inhabitants.” Similarly, many state and local governments also use this time to revise legislative and other special district boundaries.

Since most redistricting is done by those in power, the odds are against new districts being a fair representation of the population. This process known as “Gerrymandering” has been particularly effective at preventing an expanded Latino political presence at all levels. At the national level, two examples are glaring.

In Texas, the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2003 initiated a redistricting of congressional districts that yielded an additional six Republican districts. Despite gaining two congressional seats through reapportionment, and Latinos representing 32 percent the state’s population at the time, no additional Latino congressional district was created.

In California, Gov. Gray Davis and the Democrat-controlled legislature used the redistricting process to create congressional districts that assured the re-election of the existing congress, while excluding enough Latinos from at least four districts to prevent them from being competitive, even for a Latino Democratic candidate.

The history of redistricting in Kern County for Latinos is equally discouraging. In the early 1990s, only after threat of lawsuits by the Kern County Latino Redistricting Committee, were the majority Latino Fifth District Kern County Supervisorial and 30th Assembly districts created. They remain the only major competitive districts in the county to a Latino candidate. State Senate seat District 16 is also now competitive for a Latino candidate. Despite being 42 percent of the population of the city of Bakersfield, a Latino has never been elected to our city council.

Lastly, since most school boards and other special districts in the county elect trustees on an at large basis, Latino representation on these boards, with very few exceptions, is non-existent.

So what to do?

First, it is crucial that all Kern County residents be counted in the 2010 Census. Latinos also need to be vigilant of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Since Latinos are projected to account for 88 percent of Kern County’s estimated growth between 2000 to 2010, an increase in the local population could be used as leverage to assure that the new Assembly and Senate districts enhance the political interests of Latinos.

Latinos need to push, so the redistricting of the Bakersfield City Council and Kern County Supervisors is conducted in an open and public process, one that allows for public review and comment.

Finally, a review of the practice of at-large elections in school boards and special districts needs to be proposed. At-large elections, especially where two or more trustees are elected at one time, allow 50 percent of voters to control 100 percent of seats. With multiple votes cast, Latino candidates in at-large elections are placed at a significant disadvantage.

— Jesus Garcia is a Bakersfield resident who previously worked as a statistician demographer at the U.S. Census headquarters in Washington, DC, assigned to the Ethnic and Hispanic Statistics Branch.

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