National Redistricting News

February 2001 - April 2001 
 

  • Knight-Ridder Wire: "New Computer Technology Makes Redistricting More Controversial Than Ever." April 6, 2001
  • The Washington Post: "Congressional Eyes Focus on Redistricting; Lawmakers Employ Pitches and Pressure Back Home to Preserve Their Bases." April 1, 2001 
  • Roll Call: "Between the Lines." March 26, 2001
  • tompaine.com: "Demography is Destiny in Redistricting." March 14, 2001
  • Associated Press: "Dems Say Surge in Hispanics Will Counter Republican Efforts." March 13, 2001
  • Christian Science Monitor: "Finding Jerry in all the Wrong Places." March 13, 2001  
  • Orlando Sentinel: "For Parties, Race Issue Becomes the Main Issue; During Redistricting, Ideology Takes Second Place as Democrats and Republicans First Seek an Advantage." March 11, 2001
  • Associated Press: "Census Charts Changing Face of U.S. Population." March 9, 2001
  • CNS Commentary: "A New Kind of Race War." February 27, 2001

More redistricting news

 

Knight-Ridder Wire
New Computer Technology Makes Redistricting More Controversial Than Ever
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.

Most incumbent 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 or faction.

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 elections."

Past redistrictings 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.

Politicians and 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.

Stanford law 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 us.

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.

With the nation so evenly divided between the two major parties, the current round of redistricting is bound to be one of the messiest ever.

The Washington Post
Congressional Eyes Focus on Redistricting; Lawmakers Employ Pitches and Pressure Back Home to Preserve Their Bases
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 districts.

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 year's election.

"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 their district.

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.

Roll Call
Between the Lines (excerpt)
By John Mercurio
March 26, 2001


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 redistricting.

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 remapping.

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 Springs-based district.

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 County.

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 fastest-growing county.

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 Olver (D).

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 suburbs.

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 Carolina.

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 post.

tompaine.com
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 advantage.

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."

Associated Press
Dems Say Surge in Hispanics Will Counter Republican Efforts
By Suzanne Gamboa
March 13, 2001

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 legislatures.

``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 for mercy.''

``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.


Christian Science Monitor
Finding Jerry in all the Wrong Places
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.

 

Orlando Sentinel
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. Edsall
March 11, 2001

Every 10 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.

Designed 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.

The 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, Republican-leaning suburbs.

In that 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.

Republicans, 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."

The 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 considered.

Since 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.

The 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)."

Associated Press
Census Charts Changing Face of U.S. Population
By Vincent K. Willis
March 9, 2001

Exploding 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.

Facts and figures about the political implications of the near parity between Hispanics and blacks reported this week in new Census figures.

-Many 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 are undercounted.

-Blacks, 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.

-The 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.

-According to some projections, the Hispanic population is likely to grow to a fourth of the total U.S. population in about 25 years.

-Hispanics 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 Republicans.


CNS Commentary
A New Kind of Race War
By Linda Chavez
February 27, 2001

The 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.

In an 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.

But this 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.

With 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.



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