WASHINGTON —It's an impending battle: the process of redistricting throughout the country, where Hispanic political interests are at stake. The eye of the hurricane will most likely be in states with high Latino populations like Texas, Nevada and California.
A fierce battle will be waged which in the past has ended in the courts.
The first step in the battle is the release of the 2010 census results, delivering a new estimate of how the population is distributed across the country. So far, the Census Bureau has released information for the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. This week it will release data for Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland and Vermont. The bureau will be releasing the rest of the data gradually until April.
According to preliminary data, agency director Robert Groves said racial and ethnic minorities have been responsible for about 85 percent of the population growth during the last decade.
“The increase in the Hispanic community is one of the stories that will be written in the context of this census. We should see a big difference between 2000 and 2010.”
The issue now, however, is whether this growth will be reflected fairly in the restructuring of electoral districts. This means that in areas with a higher concentration of Latinos, the weight of the Hispanic vote must be proportional.
Local leaders use census data to draw up electoral jurisdictions. The problem is that, in this process, various interest groups use redistricting to benefit certain political parties or ethnic groups.
As a result, during the last round of redistricting, the cases of electoral districts in 41 states ended up in court.
“This is part of the process and the reason why the same thing will probably happen now: No one is going to let it go, not Republicans, not Democrats, not us Latinos. We will not leave,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) told La Opinión.
Meetings between community leaders have already begun. Last Saturday a meeting was held in New York that brought together about 100 leaders from such states as Connecticut, New Jersey, California and Rhode Island. NALEO held a conference Tuesday on redistricting in Washington, D.C., with representatives from 18 states.
A key weapon in the battle is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, created to prevent minorities from losing out in the redistricting process and requiring in some cases that states get federal approval to redraw electoral district lines. This is the first time a Democratic administration will be overseeing the redistricting process since the law was enacted.
"We are committed to working to make this happen in the fairest way possible," said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
The biggest battles for Hispanic interests are expected to take place in the areas where new Congressional seats will be added: Texas, which will add four seats, Florida with two, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington with one.
Other areas that will see major changes are the states that are losing seats: Ohio, New York, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
California will keep its 53 seats at in the House of Representatives. But according to Vargas, with the loss of Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, the redistricting process could change.
"All of the Latino districts in California are going to grow. It was thought that they would be extended eastward, entering the San Bernardino area, which would make those districts more conservative," he said.
"But if the person who replaces Harman doesn’t have as much political leverage, it’s possible to move African-American districts to the west and better accommodate the Hispanic congressional districts to keep them where they are.”