Every ten years states get an opportunity to redraw their district lines based on the database of population flux and migration gleaned from the Census. Thus, political boundaries are now being redesigned to reflect the demographic shifts recorded in the 2010 Census. Mandated by the US Constitution, redistricting is meant to put political power in the hands of the people and ensure real community representation.
But some question the tactics used by political parties and incumbents seeking to get or keep control. Gerrymandering is one such method where districts are intentionally drawn to advantage one group or party over another. A clue that this has taken place is often the odd shape of the newly drawn district.
“The collective power of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans -- the groups that are protected under the Voting Rights Act -- is somehow minimized by certain features of how electoral structures are created,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of Latino Justice PTLDEF, a group that advocates for the civil rights and civic participation of all Latinos.
‘Cracking’ is another example, said Cartagena, explaining “if you have a geographically compact community and that community is divided among electoral districts in multiple ways, then you are diluting that community’s strength. You have minimized the collective strength of a community that would have been the majority perhaps of one district, and now is a minority in multiple districts.”
While ‘cracking’ splits the community, ‘packing’, on the other hand, is a term used to describe the concentration of a community into a few redrawn political districts to create a majority, which diminishes its influence in surrounding areas.
Cartagena was speaking at a recent media roundtable event organized by New America Media that brought together advocates and activists under the banner ‘Fighting for the Minority Vote’.
“All minority communities want are representatives that respond to their needs, that protect them from abuse... that represent their interests and make sure they get their fair share of the resources”, said Cartagena.
The Latino Justice President also noted that although the 2010 Census confirmed a huge jump in the Hispanic population nationwide, its political power in many districts, including those in Florida, remains mediocre at best. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, between 2000 and 2010 this group increased by 15.2 million, a whopping 43 percent growth and four times the growth in the total population. Based on these numbers, Cartagena wants to make sure Latinos, and other growing minority communities, get involved in the redistricting process to ensure fair representation.
Caribbean Americans, African Americans and other minority groups are also fighting to get their share of the resources and a stronger political voice through Congressional representatives of their choice. However, the ability to make choices means being active participants in the state’s redistricting process, said Leon Russell, Vice Chairman of the National Board of Directors of the NAACP.
“Redistricting in and of itself is about power, control, and influence... Since time immemorial when folks were drawing district lines, when they were determining where and how to distribute power, they have done it in order to enhance their own ability to control,” said the NAACP executive. “And so you draw lines that benefit your particular group, whether it’s a particular party, whether it’s you as an individual .You do so to maintain your power.”
Badili Jones, an activist and political alliance officer for the Miami Workers Center, added that Florida is complex when it comes to redistricting.
“It’s not simply about race and it’s not simply about language... Particularly in Miami-Dade, ethnicity is more important than race in terms of people’s day-to-day experiences. But the people that are drawing the lines don’t necessarily take that into account.”
Jones lashed out at the states’ political system for what he termed prison-based gerrymandering that counts prisoners in the state where they are incarcerated, not where they originally resided. This tactic ensures resources and representation are kept within the district where the prison is located.
The growing Haitian community, particularly in Miami-Dade county, also feel sidelined in the political process when it comes to the drawing of political districts that represent their interests.
Jean-Robert Lafortune, President of the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition, told the group that the Haitian community has no representation, although in two of the thirteen Miami-Dade districts Haitians account for 30 and 15 percent.
To tackle the inequity, the Coalition created a redistricting task force that meets with the community and is looking to submit their own map that takes into consideration both numbers and representational seats.
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