Technology Makes Redistricting More Controversial Than
By Rob Richie and Steven Hill
April 6, 2001
Like the starting
gun at the Oklahoma Land Rush, the Census pistol has sounded, and
legislative redistricting is now seriously underway. Politicians
and their proxies are busily redrawing the fundamental terrain of
our political landscape.
line-drawers will be guided by no criteria other than two rather
ambitious and self-serving goals: firstly, to guarantee their own
re-election and that of friends and colleagues; and secondly, to
garner a majority of legislative seats for their political party
In a moment of
candor, the primary architect of Texas' last redistricting plan
admitted that the process "is not one of kindness, it is not one
of sharing. It is a power grab." A North Carolina state senator
was even more blunt: "We are in the business of rigging
have never been models of fairness or exclamations of high
democratic values, but this time several new factors have raised
the stakes beyond anything previously experienced.
It will come as no
surprise that, just like computers have impacted so many other
areas of modern life, new computer technologies have dramatically
altered the political game.
their consultants now have at their disposal extremely
sophisticated computer technology, combined with the latest
Census, demographic and polling data, to precisely gerrymander
their districts. The days of plastic Mylar maps, Elmer's glue,
magic markers, trial and error jigsaws and cut and paste
blueprints are over. The software is more accurate than ever
before, and the politicians have greatly enhanced capacity to
handpick their voters.
professor Pamela Karlan says, "The technology is so good, you can
draw districts with absolutely equal numbers of people in them,
and yet create virtually any kind of political breakdown between
the districts that you want." Adds Jeffrey Wice, an attorney for
Impact 2000, the Democratic Party's redistricting program, "The
ante has been upped immeasurably by changes in technology and the
law. An excess of technology leads to a manic temptation where
people try to connect the dots anyway they can."
One can credibly
argue that most of us no longer choose our
representatives--instead, the politicians choose us. Every decade
when the district lines are re-drawn, winners and losers will be
decided for most legislative districts. The choice of voters for
the remainder of the decade will be simply to ratify the
selections made for them by the redistricting politicians. For all
the talk of a stolen election in 2000, we are about to see the
robbery of millions of Americans' chances to elect a Member of
Congress or state legislator they like -- and yet hardly anyone
but the political insiders is paying attention.
One virtue to the
new redisctricting technologies is that they are now relatively
inexpensive. That means that virtually any special interest or
lobby with an interest in how districts are drawn can create their
own set of maps and push for the gerrymander that suits them.
Unquestionably, there will be many cooks in the kitchen during
this round of redistricting. Unfortunately, few will speak for the
general public interest in creating plans that represent all of
The game will be
played much differently in 2001-2 than ever before, and these new
redistricting technologies are crucial to the new paradigm.
Success breeds success, and the practices perfected by
redistricting practitioners have become the steroids of
politics--once one side is using them and gains a competitive
edge, you don't dare not use them. The new techniques and
technologies are too powerful to ignore, and irresistible to those
salivating to win.
the nation so evenly divided between the two major parties, the
current round of redistricting is bound to be one of the messiest
The Washington Post
Congressional Eyes Focus on Redistricting;
Lawmakers Employ Pitches and Pressure Back Home to Preserve Their
By Juliet Eilperin
April 1, 2001
When Bob Latham, the new executive director of the
Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, secured a meeting with Rep.
Robert A. Borski (D-Pa.), he assumed they would spend most of
their time discussing the state's highway needs. But as the
meeting came to a close, Borski took Latham aside and asked him a
favor. "For what it's worth, I'm in this position. It's of some
value to you," Borski said of his post as the senior Democrat on
the Transportation highway and transit subcommittee. "Can you put
in a good word for me?" Although the congressman's language was
somewhat cryptic, Latham understood what he was asking for -- a
favorable mention back in Harrisburg, where Pennsylvania's
Republican legislature and governor have recently pulled out the
maps to begin the process of redrawing the state's congressional
With Pennsylvania losing two seats as a result of
the 2000 census, Borski's is one of two Democratic-held districts
in suburban Philadelphia that are prime GOP targets. Scores of
lawmakers like Borski are keeping a nervous eye on what is going
on back home this year as legislatures across the country begin
assessing the results of the census and reshaping their state's
congressional districts for the next decade. They are furiously
wooing state lawmakers, flooding them with campaign contributions,
courting them over dinners, flattering them in hushed
conversations in legislative cloakrooms, and occasionally
threatening them with public bluster. It's a reversal of
circumstances for members of the House who are more accustomed to
spending time listening to other people make their pitch. "It's a
challenge when you don't have any real say in the process," said
Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel, the other imperiled suburban Philadelphia
Democrat whose best chance of survival depends on local
Republicans fighting to preserve his seat. "I'm in no position to
offer any deals. I can't bargain with them."
With Republicans holding a tenuous, 10-seat margin
in the House, the stakes of the redistricting this year are
enormous -- and both parties are doing their best to shape its
outcome. Incumbents from states that are losing seats, such as
Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, have become
particularly energized over the past two weeks as the
state-by-state results of the census became known. Representatives
from GOP members have been stopping by the National Republican
Congressional Committee headquarters each day, according to
committee aides, asking to use software that illustrates how the
boundaries of the bosses' districts might change. Democrats are
calling Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (Tex.), who heads
the party's redistricting effort, to schedule time for similar
computer sessions as well as legal briefings. But since every
state's redistricting process is different, each lawmaker is
employing a slightly different approach to influence the outcome.
Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.) met with state Senate
Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R) in Albany on March 26 and had dinner
that night with his closest friend in the chamber, Sen. Dean
Skelos (R). Skelos, who used to sit next to McHugh when the two
served together in Albany, occupies one of six seats on the
legislature's redistricting committee. McHugh said that making the
rounds in Albany wouldn't hurt his chances for preserving his
seat. "I hope to renew old friendships, remind them I'm still
around and I still have needs," he said in an interview before his
trip. Steeled to lose one seat upstate and another downstate, New
York members are being particularly generous to their state
counterparts. Rep. Sue W. Kelly (R-N.Y.) has attended a fundraiser
for Bruno, while Rep. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.) donated $ 250,000 to
help preserve the Republican majority in the state Senate in last
"If you're a state legislator on a key committee,
right now is a good time to solicit money for your campaign,"
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M.
Davis III (Va.) noted wryly last week. Or as Skelos observed, "I
do get recognized a little bit more now." Houghton has not stopped
with campaign donations. He has launched a "Millennium Project" --
Houghton aides refer to it as the "Save Our District" campaign --
complete with a full-time staffer aimed at persuading state
political leaders not to eliminate his Corning-based seat. The
group has launched a petition drive to collect 100,000 signatures,
said project coordinator Brandon Gardner, and is running public
service announcements on the radio urging residents to defend
Two New York Democrats have even hired lobbyists to
press their case with the Democratic state assembly. Rep. Maurice
D. Hinchey, whose district stretches from Ithaca to the Hudson
Valley, has retained Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's former
communications director, Pat Lynch, at $ 3,000 a month. Rep. Gary
Ackerman, whose Queens district is also in jeopardy, has hired
Brian Meara, another lobbyist close to Silver. Lawmakers from some
other states are adopting a more confrontational approach.
Internal Democratic documents describe the northern Ohio seat of
Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) as "undoubtably the district most likely to
be eliminated by Republicans." Brown has responded by threatening
to challenge Republican Gov. Bob Taft in 2002. "I think Taft's
very vulnerable. It's clear he's making mistake after mistake
after mistake," Brown said, adding that although he would prefer
to stay in Congress, "I'm doing things to run for governor."
Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), whose
Democratic-leaning Montgomery County district may be tilted even
more into the Democratic camp after the remapping, also has
floated the idea of running for governor. So has House Minority
Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), whose district north of Detroit
could be eliminated. Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr.
(R-Miss.), who is facing a Democratic state House, Senate and
governor in the redistricting process, has already visited with
state lawmakers a few times this year. Pickering is consulting
with state Republicans about hiring a lobbyist, and he made an
overt request during his address before the state House in
February. "I concluded by saying, 'Please remember me in your work
this year,' " he said.
the Lines (excerpt)
By John Mercurio
Doing the Numbers.
New census numbers delivered to 13 states last week
revealed strong growth in suburban and minority communities,
factors that could help both parties in the upcoming
The Census Bureau last week released its numbers to
Maryland, Kentucky, Hawaii, Connecticut, Colorado, Alaska,
Georgia, Massachusetts, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota,
Utah and Tennessee. Alaska, Montana and North Dakota have at-large
districts and consequently will not undergo Congressional
The fastest-growing region in Colorado was the area
running along the southern edge of suburban Denver, leading
redistricting agents there to predict that the state's new House
seat will be largely carved out of Rep. Joel Hefley's (R) Colorado
Population increases in Connecticut, the nation's
fourth-slowest-growing state, were concentrated in the state's New
York suburbs, represented by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D), Christopher
Shays (R) and Jim Maloney (D).
Fairfield County, represented by Maloney and Shays,
accounted for nearly half of the state's total growth and became
Connecticut's largest county during the 1990s, surpassing Hartford
By far the least growth took place in Hartford,
which means Rep. John Larson's (D) district will need to expand.
In North Carolina growth took place mainly along the
Interstate 85 corridor between Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, which
is represented primarily by Reps. Robin Hayes (R), Bobby Etheridge
(D), David Price (D) and Howard Coble (R).
In what may be the largest surge among a racial
group in one state, the census recorded a whopping 400 percent
jump in North Carolina's Hispanic population, a boom that helped
the country's ninth-fastest-growing state gain one House seat.
Hispanics and African-Americans accounted for more
than half of the state's growth.
Counties in Kentucky losing the most population were
those in the districts of GOP Reps. Ed Whitfield and Harold Rogers
(largely mining towns in Appalachia and along the state's southern
border). Rogers, the dean of the state's House delegation, is
leading a bipartisan effort to draw a new House map, which they
plan to submit to the state Legislature.
Maryland residents continued their 50-year trend of
moving out of the Baltimore districts now represented by Reps.
Elijah Cummings (D) and Ben Cardin (D) and into suburbs that
connect the city to Washington, which are represented mostly by
Reps. Connie Morella (R), Al Wynn (D) and Steny Hoyer (D). Hoyer's
district in southern Maryland includes Calvert, the state's
The Baltimore County-based district of Rep. Bob
Ehrlich (R), which stretches from the city north to the
Pennsylvania border, also grew substantially, fueled by a 77
percent increase in the county's black population.
Democrats who control redistricting in Maryland plan
to target Morella by moving several majority-black precincts from
Wynn's district into her Montgomery County-based seat.
Fueled by growth among minorities and in the Boston
suburbs and communities along Cape Cod, Massachusetts recorded its
largest population surge in 30 years. Growth was centered mostly
on the Cape and the vacation islands of Martha's Vineyard and
Nantucket, represented by Rep. Bill Delahunt (D).
But by far the slowest growth was in the Bay State's
western reaches, represented by Reps. Richard Neal (D) and John
Georgia added the fourth-largest number of people
and grew at the sixth-fastest rate, making it the country's 10th
most populous state.
Most of the population surge occurred in the
increasingly Republican suburbs surrounding Atlanta, which could
make it harder for state Democrats who control the remap to score
much in the way of political gains.
By far the fastest-growing county was Forsyth -
represented by Rep. Nathan Deal (R) - where the population jumped
by 123 percent. The slowest growth was in the districts of Reps.
Sanford Bishop (D), Saxby Chambliss (R) and Jack Kingston (R).
Displaying a trend similar to Georgia, the
increasingly Republican suburbs around Nashville led a decade of
strong growth in neighboring Tennessee. Most of that growth was in
Rep. Bart Gordon's (D) district, which includes the city's eastern
Republicans who control the remap in Idaho
anticipate little change in the districts of GOP Reps. Butch Otter
and Mike Simpson following the release of the new census numbers.
Roughly one-third of the state's population
continues to live in Boise-based Ada County and nearby Canyon
County on the state's southwestern border, which Otter represents.
Similarly, few expect major shifts in the Hawaii
districts of Democratic Reps. Neil Abercrombie, who represents
downtown Honolulu and Pearl City; and Patsy Mink, whose district
includes the rest of the island chain. The census did report a
shift of residents from the city of Oahu to the more rural
"Neighbor Islands." Mink represents both of these regions.
Democrats control the redistricting process in Hawaii.
Strong growth among minorities nearly enabled Utah
to pick up a fourth House seat. The state is currently challenging
the bureau's decision to instead shift an additional seat to North
As it now stands, Salt Lake City and its suburbs -
represented mostly by the state delegation's lone Democrat,
freshman Rep. Jim Matheson - grew more slowly than the heavily
Republican districts in the state's southern reaches. They are
currently represented by GOP Reps. Chris Cannon and Jim Hansen.
Picking Wick. The Republican Members of the U.S.
Census Monitoring Board last week chose Charles "Wick" Candwell to
replace Fred Asbell as executive director.
Caldwell, a former newspaper
reporter and aide to ex-Sen. Thruston Morton (R-Ky.), joined the
board's staff in June 1998 and served as director of operations
and chief financial officer before landing his new
Demography is Destiny in Redistricting: Nearly 99
percent of House Incumbents Won Re-Election -- Ever Wonder Why?
Rob Richie and Steven Hill
March 14, 2001
Rob Richie and Steven Hill are co-authors of
Reflecting All of Us, and are executive director and western
regional director, respectively, of The Center for Voting and
Democracy. Editor's Note: The Center for Voting and Democracy has
developed a number of web-based resources about redistricting,
including a "Redistricting Wheel" (where viewers can try their own
hand at redistricting, and see how different legislative lines
produce different results), a comprehensive online library,
commentaries and op-ed reviews, and other resources.
The partisan struggle over the use of statistically
adjusted data from the U.S. Census to avoid "undercounts" was just
a warmup for the real game: the redistricting of thousands of
legislative districts across the country.
Once the census data is provided to states this
month, legislative districts must be redrawn to ensure they are
equal in population. With few public interest checks on their near
God-like power in drawing state legislative and congressional
districts, incumbents use increasingly sophisticated computer
software and demographic data to literally choose the voters
before the voters have a chance to choose them.
Moreover, political parties with full control of the
process in a state -- such as Democrats in California and
Republicans in Pennsylvania and Ohio -- can seek to cement their
power. By using techniques like "packing," whereby lines are drawn
to concentrate many supporters of political opponents into a few
districts, and "cracking," where opponents' supporters are split
among several districts, they can dramatically heighten their
chances for the next decade.
Jim Nicholson, former chair of the Republican
National Committee (RNC), stated last year, "The winners [of the
state legislatures] are going to determine the political landscape
in at least the first decade of the next millennium, because they
are the people who are going to preside over the process of
reapportionment and redistricting of their respective states as a
result of the 2000 census."
With so much at stake, Democrats and Republicans are
preparing to claw like cats and dogs -- especially in the courts.
"There's going to be a race to the courthouse," says Stanford law
professor Pam Karlan. "The redistricting process following 2000 is
going to be more of a litigation-driven process than it was in the
past." Caltech professor J. Morgan Kousser says, "Redistricting in
2001 is going to be the greatest bonanza for lawyers since the
founding of the New Deal." Redistricting -- or shall we say the
"incumbent protection process" -- is the leading cause of
uninspiring, choice-less elections.
More hearings, more lawsuits, more investigations.
Sound familiar? The fragile "bipartisanship" of the past month is
sure to evaporate under the torrid heat of redistricting.
Who gets ripped off by this process? The voters, of
course. As a result of the redistricting process, most voters
become locked down into noncompetitive one-party districts where
their only real choice at election time is to ratify the incumbent
or heir apparent of the party controlling that district.
In 2000, for example, 78 percent of U.S. House seats
-- nearly four out of five -- were won by landslide margins
greater than 20 percentage points. Only 38 seats - less than 9
percent -- were won by competitive margins of less than 10
percentage points, the lowest figure since 1988. Most big wins
were in districts where one party has a lopsided partisan
Like a Soviet-type Politburo, nearly 99 percent of
House incumbents won re-election. In a whopping 41 percent of
state legislative races only one major party candidate ran. Is
this any way to run a democracy?
Redistricting -- or shall we say the "incumbent
protection process" -- is the leading cause of uninspiring,
choice-less elections. If you are a Democrat in a solidly
Republican district, or a Republican in a solidly Democratic
district, or a supporter of a minor party everywhere, you don't
have a chance of electing your candidate. Demography is destiny,
it turns out.
What can be done? Redistricting will happen over the
next year, and the partisan technocrats already are drawing their
maps, but there are several options to consider:
At the least, redistricting should be a public
process, with full media coverage and citizen input.
Redistricting should be taken out of the hands
of the incumbents and given to independent commissions guided by
non-political criteria. Arizonans recently voted to implement
such a citizen review procedure.
Replace single-seat districts with multi-seat
legislative districts and adopt a proportional voting system, as
used by most established democracies for national legislative
elections. Candidates would run in a fewer number of larger
disticts, each with more than one representative. Candidates in
Massachusetts might run in one of two five-seat districts, where
it would take about a fifth of the vote to win a seat, rather
than in ten separate districts, which now are all held by white
male Democrats. This would give all voters better choices,
better representation and foster more competition. Nearly every
multi-seat district would have full representation, instead of
the safe, one-party districts we have now.
With re-gerrymandering nearly underway, a movement
for reform has a natural rallying cry that fits with our nation' s
democratic impulse: "This time, let the voters decide."
Dems Say Surge in Hispanics Will Counter
By Suzanne Gamboa
The leader of the Democrats' redistricting efforts
says the surge in Hispanics counted during Census 2000 will help
counter Republican efforts to add House seats in states with big
population jumps. Hispanics generally vote Democratic and six of
the eight states gaining seats, including Texas, have seen
significant increases in their Hispanic populations, said Rep.
Martin Frost, chairman of IMPAC 2000, the group heading the
Democrats' redistricting campaign. In addition to Texas, those
states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and Nevada.
``The (Hispanic) growth in the states is so dramatic. In Texas,
with 6.6 million Hispanics, it seems to me it would be somewhat
difficult for the Legislature to draw a seat that is not
Hispanic,'' Frost said Tuesday. In the other two states, Georgia
and North Carolina, Democrats control the redistricting process
because they hold the governor's office and own majorities in the
``We think if we do our work that we can break even
on redistricting. Some people have said that we might pick up a
couple of seats,'' Frost said. Republicans dismissed Frost's rosy
outlook as political spin, pointing out that Republicans made
significant gains in capturing the Latino vote last election.
``Republicans are in a very strong position heading into
redistricting, stronger than we have ever been before,'' said
Steven Schmidt, National Republican Congressional Committee
spokesman. Republicans still say they can gain at least 10 seats
nationally. In Texas, however, Republican political consultant
Craig Murphy said Democrats are more in a position of ``begging
``I don't really argue they can't be saved, but the
radical gerrymandering it would take would not be approved under
our current governor or any judge,'' said Murphy, owner of
Arlington, Texas-based Murphy Group. Murphy added that of the 10
Texas districts that saw the most growth, eight are Republican.
Rep. Dick Armey's suburban Dallas district topped the list with a
29.76 percent increase, raising its population to 845,541. An
ideal district in Texas has a population of about 651,000. Texas'
congressional delegation has 17 Democrats and 13 Republicans. Two
of those districts' seats are held by minorities, including one
held by Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. ``It's a minimum of six
new Republican seats in Texas, that's if you create a Hispanic
district,'' Murphy said.
Redistricting, a once-a-decade legislative task to
conform political districts to new census numbers, always brings
out the strongest partisan feelings. With control of the House at
stake in 2002, both political parties are setting aside millions
of dollars for legal challenges that are certain to occur.
Democrats whose seats Republicans say are vulnerable are those
held by Frost and Rep. Ken Bentsen of Houston, an IMPAC 2000
co-chairman. Bentsen, however, said redistricting would be a wash
in Texas. ``The bottom line is that a year or so ago, the
Republicans were crowing about how Democrats are going to be in
trouble because of huge population losses in Democratic
districts,'' Bentsen said. ``There have been gains in Republican
districts but there have not been huge losses in Democratic
districts. In fact, Republicans have their own districts where
they have to be making up population. Eight of the 10 districts
losing the most population are held by Democrats. Losing the most
population was Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon. His district lost
54,218 people for a total 597,401. Courts have effectively
prohibited concentrating minorities in one district so as to
prevent dilution of the influence of their vote in adjoining
districts, which Frost said will be a plus for Democrats.
Finding Jerry in all the Wrong
By Lance Carden
March 13, 2001
As you may know, state officials nationwide are
expecting the US Census Bureau to drop a bomb this month, telling
them how much their respective populations have shifted in the
past decade. In the ensuing war of words over the shape of new
voting districts, some adjectival j's and g's - I'm thinking
"jerry-rigged," "jury-rigged," "jerry-built," "gerrymander" - will
be thrown around like hand grenades.
Here is a quick review on the use of these
explosives: If you want to describe some opponents' mapmaking as
"jerry-rigged," you should resist the temptation, even though
others certainly won't. For example, Pennsylvania Congressman Curt
Weldon (R) has issued a press release in which he lambastes a
"jerry-rigged" plan to employ statistical sampling to compensate
for flaws in Uncle Sam's decennial count. "Jerry-rigged" is not
even listed in standard dictionaries. The congressman might
instead have characterized the statistical-sampling plan as "jury-
rigged," a nautical term for something quickly assembled for
emergency or temporary use. (A jury mast, for example, is a
product of jury-rigging.)
Anne Soukhanov, a lexicographer and editor of the
Encarta World English Dictionary, calls "jerry-rigged" a
"mishearing [of jury-rigged] that has resulted in a misspelling."
In his choice of "jerry-rigged," Mr. Weldon is far from alone,
however; in common parlance, its use is widespread. In the past 20
years, it has found its way into the Monitor's pages 16 times - a
dozen of those occurrences after 1990. (I leave it to you, gentle
reader, to decide whether these numbers indicate declining
editorial vigilance, growing public acceptance of this term, or a
combination of the two.) "Jerry-built" and "gerrymandered" are
other epithets that may be judiciously employed to describe
apparently disastrous redistricting plans. The former refers to
something cheaply or carelessly constructed. The latter refers to
the artificial shaping of voting districts, usually to favor
candidates of the legislative party or parties in power, although
districts that would favor candidates from certain ethnic or
racial groups can also be gerrymandered.
The term was coined in 1812 to describe the
redistricting efforts of then-Gov. Elbridge Gerry of
Massachusetts. Gerry, a distinguished Founding Father, was a
signer of the Declaration of Independence, a delegate to the
Constitutional Convention, a US congressman, and James Madison's
vice president in 1813-14. Alas, Gerry (pronounced Gary) may be
best known today for the salamander shape he gave to a certain
Massachusetts voting district to help his party maintain control -
hence the term "gerrymander" (Gerry + mander, now pronounced
"jerrymander"). There are many other interesting perils that
result from confusing j's, and g's - including a gaffe that made
its way into the Monitor recently: substituting the phrase "the
gig is up" for "the jig is up." The gig is up for Bill Clinton, of
course, but that is a different matter.
For Parties, Race Issue Becomes the Main Issue;
During Redistricting, Ideology Takes Second Place as Democrats and
Republicans First Seek an Advantage
By Thomas B.
March 11, 2001
years, the Democratic and Republican parties change places on a
key issue of civil-rights policy. Soon after the start of each
decade -- when, as now, it comes time to begin reapportioning
congressional districts -- the Grand Old Party abruptly becomes
the advocate of tough enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,
which protects the interests of black voters during the
redistricting process. At the same time, many Democrats abandon
their commitment to the broad interpretation of the law, which
seeks to increase black representation by concentrating minority
voters. Democrats call instead for a looser and less binding
approach to the application of the Voting Rights Act.
to prohibit attempts to restrict black representation, the act has
produced a surge in black representation in Southern House of
Representatives delegations. But during redistricting, neither
Democrats nor Republicans are driven by ideology but by a desire
to maximize their representation in Congress. Republicans
calculate that, for every overwhelmingly black Democratic district
created, there is a good chance of creating two or more districts
that are overwhelmingly white and Republican. Democrats,
conversely, know that, in the South, their party does not win
majorities among whites. Their best strategy is to create as many
districts as possible with 25 percent to 40 percent black voters.
These largely loyal Democratic voters coupled with the third or so
of the white electorate that historically votes the same way can
send a Democrat to Congress.
issue of race is crucial as state legislatures prepare to redraw
congressional, state House of Representatives and state Senate
lines to meet one-person, one-vote standards. Based on the finding
of the 2000 census, 10 states will lose at least one seat in
Congress by 2002, including two each for Pennsylvania and New
York, and eight states will gain seats, including two each for
Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona. In northern states losing
seats, white Democrats are most in danger. Much of the population
decline is concentrated in urban areas with large black
populations. If existing black seats are preserved in these areas,
the most-threatened incumbents become those in nearby white areas,
such as districts in the suburban ring counties of Detroit and
Cleveland. Many of these legislators are Democrats. In the South,
much of the population growth has been in white,
region, Democrats want to "pack" as many solid GOP voters together
in as few districts as possible, while increasing the number of
racially mixed districts in which Democratic candidates would have
a chance. The GOP in the South has a directly contradictory goal:
to "pack" as many African-American voters as possible in as few
districts as possible to increase the chances of winning the
remaining majority-white districts. The decennial metamorphosis of
the two political parties on enforcement of the Voting Rights Act
lasts roughly two years, or about the time it takes to redraw
congressional districts across the nation.
including Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), chairman of the National
Republican Congressional Committee, are gearing up to counter the
efforts of Democrats to spread out minority voters. "We have
attorneys ready," Davis said at a recent luncheon meeting with
editors and reporters at The Washington Post. "You have the issue
of retrogression. If you take a district that is 60 percent
minority now, and a Democratic legislature makes it 55 percent to
spread those voters out to help other Democrats, that is
retrogression," and it violates the Voting Rights Act, Davis
argued. Democrats reply that Republican civil-rights sympathies
are cynical and mask the GOP goal of "packing" the maximum number
possible of black voters into districts that then elect black
Democratic representatives while diminishing overall black
"influence" by segregating African-Americans into just a few
districts. "Our goal is to not allow Republicans to use
redistricting to put us in a permanent minority status," declared
Gerald Hebert, general counsel to IMPAC 2000, the Democratic
Party's major redistricting organization. "We fully expect the
Republicans to try to keep the districts packed, and attempt to
pack them with high levels of minorities."
overall shift in congressional representation from north to south
should benefit the GOP, Davis said, because most of the states
losing seats voted for Al Gore, while most of those gaining seats
voted for President Bush. Neither party has an overall political
advantage in the current redistricting efforts. In Michigan,
Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, for example, the GOP controls both
legislative branches and the governorship. Democrats control all
three in North Carolina, Georgia and California. Strategists in
both parties are preparing to take every adverse political
redistricting outcome to court. If many or all redistricting cases
end up in the courts, the Supreme Court could set legal standards
crucial to determining which party controls the House. The most
volatile, and unsettled, legal issue in redistricting is race and
judicial interpretation of the Voting Rights Act. Since the early
1990s, the Supreme Court has rejected plans drawn with race as the
"predominant" factor that supersedes other factors such as county
boundaries, incumbency protection and compactness. The court has
not ruled out the use of race as one of many factors to be
1992, the Supreme Court has ordered the redrawing of oddly drawn
districts with majority-black constituencies in North Carolina,
Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. Those Supreme Court rulings proved
highly beneficial to Democratic strategists on two counts: First,
the court effectively rejected "packing," the Republican-supported
approach of creating "super-majority" black districts with
African-American percentages of 65 percent or more. Second, after
many majority-black districts were redrawn, reducing the
proportion of black voters in each district to less than 50
percent, all the African-American incumbents who sought
re-election from those districts won back their seats. Strategists
say that shows that black candidates in the South can win a
substantial percentage of white votes.
court now has before it a new challenge to North Carolina's 12th
District, a challenge that the justices may use to give further
direction to the post-2000 redistricting. As originally drawn in
1991, the district curved along Interstate 85 for 160 miles from
Gastonia outside Charlotte to Durham, producing a 57 percent black
electorate. Democrat Rep. Melvin Watt won the House seat in 1992.
After a series of challenges by white voters protesting racial
gerrymandering, the district was redrawn in 1998 to become far
more compact, with the proportion of African Americans reduced to
36 percent. Watt retained the seat in the 1998 election, beating a
white Republican by 56 percent to 42 percent. Watt won again in
2000, with 65 percent of the vote. Under a tough interpretation of
Section V of the Voting Rights Act by the Justice Department in
1991-92, southern state legislatures significantly increased the
number of majority-black districts. As a result, the number of
blacks elected to the House from the South shot from five to 17.
Increased black representation from black districts also
coincided with Republican gains in much of the rest of the South.
The simultaneous increase in representation by both blacks and
Republicans has prompted a surge of scholarly interest in the
redistricting process. Three researchers -- Bernard Grofman of the
University of California at Irvine, Lisa Handley of Frontier
International Electoral Consulting and David Lublin of American
University -- recently challenged the arguments of earlier
civil-rights advocates, who argued that black candidates needed
majority-black districts to win. After studying results in
southern congressional and legislative districts, the authors
argue that black candidates needed "less than 50 percent in every
instance, and in most cases . . . in the range of 33-39 percent
black (voters to win)."
Charts Changing Face of U.S. Population
By Vincent K.
March 9, 2001
Hispanic and Asian populations are rapidly changing the face of
America at the start of the new millennium, the latest Census
Bureau figures show. The 2000 census data released officially
Thursday provide a complex but highly anticipated statistical
portrait of America, with hundreds of thousands of people taking
advantage of a new opportunity to tell the government that they
were of more than one race.
and figures about the political implications of the near parity
between Hispanics and blacks reported this week in new Census
Hispanics and blacks feel the Census has not adequately counted
either group and should have used a statistical method called
sampling to increase the count for minorities, who traditionally
with 39 seats, hold almost twice as many as the 21 seats Hispanics
hold in the U.S. House, even though the overall populations in the
country are very similar.
Hispanic population remains concentrated in some states where they
have considerable political influence, such as California, Texas
and New York, although they are increasingly turning up in states
like Iowa, North Carolina and Georgia.
to some projections, the Hispanic population is likely to grow to
a fourth of the total U.S. population in about 25 years.
of Mexican descent, about two-thirds of all Hispanics in this
country, and from Puerto Rico traditionally have leaned
Democratic, while Cuban Americans have largely been conservative
A New Kind
of Race War
By Linda Chavez
February 27, 2001
first salvos in a new race war will be launched this week when the
Census Bureau releases its preliminary figures on the 2000 census.
I'm not talking about riots in the streets, but a more
sophisticated battle waged via computer programs to pack
minorities into neat, compact voting blocks. It's all part of the
decennial political redistricting required under our Constitution
and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And the combatants in this war
include not only various minority groups, who stand to gain
political influence, but the Democrat and Republican parties.
ironic political twist, if state legislatures create more majority
black and Hispanic voting districts, which usually vote Democrat,
it's still likely fewer Democrats will be elected overall. Here's
why: Americans move around frequently, causing dramatic population
shifts to occur. So the Constitution requires that every 10 years
-- based on the last census -- state legislature redraw the lines
for all political jurisdictions to ensure the principle of one
person, one vote. But the courts have interpreted the Voting
Rights Act of 1965 to require special care be taken not to
"dilute" the votes of blacks and Hispanics in the redistricting
process. Many civil rights organizations argue that in order to
ensure that black or Hispanic votes truly count, minority
candidates must be elected. And this can't happen, they argue,
unless blacks or Hispanics make up 65 percent of the voters in
so-called 'safe' districts. Following the 1970 and 1980 censuses,
several states tried to maximize the political clout of black and
Hispanic voters by creating these 'safe' districts. The result has
been to produce districts configured largely on racial and ethnic
lines, which often ignore neighborhood and community ties.
type of racial gerrymandering also creates unusual political
alliances. Civil rights groups that favor racial gerrymandering
have lined up with Republicans against Democrats, who favor racial
preferences everywhere except in political redistricting. When
state legislatures pack in super-majorities of black and Hispanic
voters in order to create more 'safe' black and Hispanic
districts, they leave surrounding areas with mostly white voters,
who are more likely to vote Republican. On balance, the math
favors Republicans. If whites, on average, vote about 60-40
Republican, Democrat candidates will have a harder time winning a
mostly white district. As Washington Post political reporter Tom
Edsall recently explained it, "(Democrats') best strategy is to
create as many districts as possible with 25 to 40 percent black
voters," leaving fewer mostly black districts.
Republicans in control of both houses in 18 state legislatures,
and Democrats in control of both houses in only 16 -- down from 30
a decade ago -- we may see more efforts at racial gerrymandering
this year than we did in 1990. We can also expect to see more
lawsuits. After the 1990 census, groups and individuals filed more
than 130 lawsuits in 40 states challenging the redistricting
plans. During the 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court heard some 10
cases involving race and redistricting. In all of the cases, the
Court made clear that race could not be the predominant factor in
drawing district lines, striking down some egregiously
gerrymandered districts in the process. Nonetheless, state
legislatures will no doubt bow to both partisan interests and
lobbying by some civil rights groups to create more black and
Hispanic districts. And their efforts will put the Bush
Administration to one of its first tests on a race-related issue.
Under the Voting Rights Act, some political
jurisdictions must seek pre-clearance from the Justice Department
before they can make any changes affecting voting, including
redistricting. The easiest -- and most partisan -- thing for
Attorney General John Ashcroft to do in these cases would be to
approve redistricting plans based on racially gerrymandered lines.
If he does so he'll win praise from civil rights groups and his
fellow Republicans. But the right thing for him to do is reject
any redistricting plan whose purpose is racially motivated. It's
wrong for government to be assigning voters on the basis of their
skin color, just as it is wrong for employers to hire or schools
to picks students on that basis. On this issue, the Republicans
are on the wrong side.