Racial and Ethnic Minority RepresentationAt present, communities of color are under-represented in government in the US. Although African Americans make up over 12% of the population of America, there are only 42 black Delegates in the US House, and only one black Senator. This pattern is repeated for other ethnic and racial groups and on a state and local level.
While there are many reasons for the under-representation of people of color in America, winner-take-all election systems do nothing to help. Under winner-take-all, 50.1% of the population can control 100% of seats, leaving minority groups without any representation. In places with a history of racially polarized voting, this has often resulted in white voters swamping the votes of other communities, leading to legislatures which do not reflect the demographic composition of those they represent.
In 1965, the federal government adopted the Voting Rights Act, to ensure access for all citizens to the ballot. It soon became clear, however, that the right to vote did not necessarily translate into electing representatives for groupings of voters who were in the minority. In many jurisdictions, particularly in the South, voters who historically had faced racial discrimination -- including African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Pacific Americans and Native Americans -- were unable to elect candidates of their choice in most elections. In 1982, the Voting Rights Act was amended to include provisions requiring certain jurisdictions to take steps to give minority voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
To allow voters in an isolated minority to elect candidates, the solution in a majority, winner-take-all system initially was to turn the minority into a majority through drawing legislative districts to turn an overall racial minority into a majority in a particular district. But such an approach has limitations, especially where the minority group is dispersed geographically or interspersed with other groups of minority voters. As the American population becomes increasingly diverse and increasingly mobile, it becomes much harder to group communities into stable single-member districts, and every redistricting can threaten a return to under-representation. In the 1990s, race-conscious districts also ran into serious problems at the Supreme Court, which outlawed explicit "racial gerrymanders." This made it even harder to use single-member districts as a mechanism to provide fair representation.