In Redistricting Debate, What Role Should Citizenship Play?

In Redistricting Debate, What Role Should Citizenship Play?

Story tools

A A AResize


After factoring in voting age and citizenship status, in 2009 only 41 percent of the Latino population in the United States was eligible to vote in federal elections, compared to 74 percent of non-Latinos. This is one of the major findings of statistics released last Friday by the Census Bureau at the request of the Justice Department, based in the estimates from the 2005-9 American Community Survey (ACS).

These figures on the citizen voting age population (C-VAP for short) will be a factor to be considered in political redistricting discussions throughout the country. They represent a new element in the redistricting process because this is the first time that citizenship information has been released prior to the release of the decennial Census redistricting data. Because the use of citizenship status is an unsettled redistricting and voting rights issue with the courts, it is anticipated that the use of the ACS data for this purpose may be subject to legal challenges.

The percentages of the voting age population that were U.S. citizens was lowest among Latinos (62 percent) than the other major racial-ethnic groups. This compares to 96 percent for non-Latinos, ranging from a low of 66 percent for Asians, 84 percent for Pacific Islanders, 95 percent for Blacks, 98 percent for Whites and 99 percent for American Indians.

After taking age and citizenship into account based on the findings of the 2005-9 ACS, compared to the 41 percent of Latinos who remained eligible to vote, 74 percent of non-Latinos were. This does not take into account other factors like socioeconomic status, language barriers, incarceration rates, language barriers and others that disproportionately depress Latino voter participation rates. The citizenship variable also does not reflect future naturalization rates or the likely higher undercount rate of non-citizens.

The impact of citizenship and age on the eligibility of voters varied widely between the major racial-ethnic groups. While 77 percent of whites and 68 percent of blacks remained eligible voters after taking into account these two factors, only 41 percent of Latinos, 51 percent of Asians, and 62 percent of Pacific Islanders remained eligible voters.

The impact of these factors on Latino representation in the electorate is considerable. Although making up an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. population in 2009, the Latino share of the voting age population drops to 13 percent of the total population that is 18 years and older. When citizenship status is introduced, the Latino share of eligible voters drops much further to only 9 percent.
When looking at the effect of age and citizenship status on Latino voter eligibility, there is also much variation between the states and territories. The states with the lowest Latino voter eligibility were Georgia and North Carolina (where only 35 percent were eligible), South Carolina (40 percent), Arkansas (45 percent), Maryland and the District of Columbia (47 percent each), and Oregon (48 percent). Those with the highest rate of Latino voter eligibility were Puerto Rico (97 percent), Montana (94 percent), Hawaii (93 percent) and Alaska (83 percent).

The same is the case with cities and other places. Among the 25 places with the largest Latino populations, Latino voter eligibility ranged from 39 to 96 percent. Among these 25 places, those with the lowest Latino eligibility rates were Santa Ana, CA (39 percent) and Dallas, TX (41 percent). Those with the highest Latino eligibility rates were: Bayamon, Puerto Rico (97 percent), San Juan, Puerto Rico (90 percent), San Antonio, TX (84 percent) and Albuquerque, NM (84 percent).

This article was shortened from its original length.