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Latino Population Booms Everywhere—Except on Voting Maps (1)

Dec. 21, 2021, 9:45 AMUpdated: Dec. 21, 2021, 3:21 PM

Hispanics and Latinos are the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population, but that hasn’t translated into electoral clout—as a few shifting lines on a Texas map demonstrate.

Though Texas gained two congressional seats after the 2020 Census, the map Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed in October shrinks the number of majority-minority districts from eight to seven. Community advocates are now closely watching the nonpartisan redistricting commissions in Arizona and California, which also have large Hispanic and Latino populations they say should be reflected in Washington.

“Texas just can’t help itself. It keeps drawing district maps in ways that limits Latino political strength. But as we have seen, in the past year elections, Latino voter turnout is increasing in Texas,” said Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

Hispanic and Latino populations grew by 23% nationwide between 2010 and 2020—by 21% in Texas, according to the Census. That’s nearly double the 18-and-older population growth rate overall. Those groups now account for 39% of the state’s population, but are only projected to represent seven of the 38 congressional districts, according to the map as it stands now.

Divvying Texas

Community advocates point to Texas’ 23rd congressional district, currently held by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R) in the west, as an example of how the legislature shifted a few boundaries around El Paso and San Antonio to deny its sizable Latino and Hispanic population a shot at controlling the seat going forward. Though the boundary shifts appear small, Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, said it shrunk the Latino population by 5%.

The Justice Department in a recent lawsuit said the changes strategically and illegally moved Latinos who were likely to vote out of the 23rd, replacing them with others less likely to vote.

“Because many of the Hispanic residents in the district are less likely to vote and because many of them will vote Democratic, their ability to elect candidates of choice in this district has been eliminated,” said Adam Podowitz-Thomas, senior legal strategist for the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and the Princeton Electoral Innovation Lab.

Hispanic and Latino groups were more than 68% of the district’s population during the 2020 election, according to state data. The updated district map shifted nearly 87,000 Hispanic and Latino residents from counties like Bexar and El Paso out of the district, bringing them to 62.9% of the district.

Cuts to Bexar County also impacted Texas’ 35th congressional district, which is currently held by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D). Bexar County’s Hispanic and Latino population totaled 180,995 in the new map, nearly 54,000 less than in the previous map, according to state data.

As a result, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D), filed a lawsuit Dec. 13 against Abbott and Secretary of State John Scott, alleging that the 35th district, as it stands, decreases the Latino voting population.

“By denying Latinos in CD-35 the opportunity to elect a candidate of our choice, TX has shortchanged our community of the representation it deserves,” Fischer tweeted.

State Sen. Joan Huffman (R), chair of the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Texas Isn’t Alone

Other states with booming Hispanic and Latino populations such as California and Arizona are getting more scrutiny as they work through their redistricting processes. Both states use independent redistricting commissions rather than letting state legislators draw the lines. However, community advocates said that doesn’t guarantee that Latino and Hispanic populations will be adequately reflected in the maps.

“There are Latino commissioners, but it’s not at parity with the Latino population in California,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the University of California, Los Angeles Latino Policy & Politics Initiative.

“So, what that means is that you just really don’t have that voice that you need.”

In California, there are 14 commissioners, five of whom are Democrat, five who are Republican, and four who have no party preference, according to the group’s website. California Redistricting Commissioner Patricia Sinay is Latina, adding that she’s also the only immigrant on the commission.

“The 14 of us are not only diverse in our political leanings, but also in our lived and professional and ethnic experiences,” Sinay said. “So, you’ve got 14 people listening to this data, interpreting it differently, but pushing it back and forth and getting to a consensus.”

The Hispanic and Latino communities make up 39.4% of California’s total population, a roughly 11% increase.

A Balancing Act

While independent commissions typically do a better job of protecting vulnerable and minority populations, Harvard Election Law Clinic Director Ruth Greenwood said California and Arizona face a number of competing interests between different minority groups that must be balanced.

“It’s about balancing all of it,” Sinaysaid. “If we just had to look at one community, it would be a lot easier to create the maps.”

The reality of those tradeoffs emphasizes how important it is for communities to be represented in the process, Podowitz-Thomas said.

“The question is who’s ‘the everybody’ in that state?” he said. “If anyone’s being honest about redistricting, and I think this is true for advocates as well, it’s made up of a series of trade-offs and we’re constantly having to make decisions about which trade-offs are we willing to take, and which ones do we think are important.”

California’s redistricting committee voted unanimously Tuesday to send the congressional, legislative, and Board of Equalization maps to the Secretary of State’s office.

Aside from complying with VRA and the U.S. Constitution first, Arizona’s maps, expected Dec. 22, must also consider communities of interest, be compact and continuous, have equal population, consider geographic and political boundaries, and respect competitiveness, said Roy Herrera, one of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission counsel. Balancing these criteria is a daunting task since only one is legally clear.

“It’s a little bit more difficult to balance because there aren’t constitutional or legal definitions necessarily of what those mean,” he said. “How do you balance them when they conflict with each other? So, it’s a bit more of an art than a science. That’s redistricting.”

Arizona’s commission is made up of two Democrats, 2 Republicans, and one Independent. The state saw a roughly 16% increase, bringing those populations to 30.7% in 2020.

(Updated with California Redistricting Commission map approval in the 23rd paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ayanna Alexander in Washington at aalexander@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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