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Latinos and Redistricting in the Northeast
Photo: The National Institute for Latino Policy
Over 100 Latino voting rights advocates from throughout the Northeast gathered on Saturday in New York City to develop strategies for promoting Latino community participation in the redistricting process throughout the region. Convened by the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP) as part of their Latino Voting Rights Network, the 5-hour Northeast Latino Redistricting Meeting included delegations from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
The meeting opened with remarks by Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. He spoke about the importance of redistricting to the Latino community and outlined critical issues such as the weakening of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) by recent Supreme and lower court decisions. He also explained LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s role in the redistricting process and their partnership with other leading legal defense funds such as MALDEF and the NAACP LDF.
Political scientist Angelo Falcón, President of the National Institute for Latino Policy, followed with a presentation on “Latinos and Redistricting:
The Politics of Demography.” He pointed to the challenges presented by the dramatic growth of the Latino population and of translating these numbers into better political representation. Falcón discussed the regional specificities of Latinos in the Northeast and how they impact on this community’s advocacy efforts. He concluded by pointing to the benefits of effective Latino advocacy on redistricting and warned that Latino advocates needed to work to avoid the usual outcome of “Gerrymandering turning into a Political Chupacabra” against the interests of the Latino community.
The next presentation was on “Redistricting Legal Standards and the Latino Community 2011,” by civil rights attorney Juan Cartagena, General Counsel and Vice President for Advocacy at the Community Service Society of New York. He provided a detailed review of the legal issues affecting redistricting, with a specific focus on the Voting Rights Act. He discussed various aspects of the VRA, such as Sections 2 and 5 (pre-clearance), key decisions like Bartlett, Shaw, Gingles and others, and new issues such as that of the counting of prisoners, the use of proportional representation as a voting rights remedy, the role of non-citizen voting, and others.
Redistricting consultant Lucia Gomez-Jimenez, and former Policy Fellow with NiLP, then went on to address, “The Nuts and Bolts of Latino Redistricting.” She spoke about the elements that go into developing effective redistricting plans and their promotion. This included discussion of redistricting criteria, the use of Census and other data, the availability of different data mapping programs, the role of nationalism, inter-Latino relations and coalition-building, and issues related to messaging and media relations.
Falcón then led discussion of issues requiring further exploration. These included identifying existing resources for advocates, which included presentations by: John Garcia, Redistricting Coordinator with LatinoJutice PRLDEF; Myrna Perez, Staff Attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University; and Robert Berman, Deputy Chief of the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
This was followed by a discussion of the state of funding for redistricting efforts. Thomasina Williams, Program Officer at The Ford Foundation, informed the meeting of the resources available on the website of the Funders Committee for Civic Participation, and resources available through the Community Census and Redistricting Institute of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She also offered to provide the Funders Committee on Civic Participation with a report on the results of this Northeast meeting, based on a questionnaire administered to the meeting participants.
Because the redistricting process in New Jersey is the most advanced at this point in the region, the meeting then focused on a discussion of that state as a case study. Moderated by Cartagena, William Ayala of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLANJ), and Christian Esteves of the Latino Action Network presented the positions they provided in testimony before the New Jersey Apportionment Commission, stressing the general agreement they had on key issues. This involved a discussion of the relative merits of “packing” and “unpacking” of districts and of “majority-Latino” versus “influence,” “coalition” and “crossover” districts. This was followed by an update on the situation in Rhode Island by Dr. Pablo Rodriguez of the Rhode Island Political Action Committee (RILPAC).
Falcón closed the meeting pointing to the need to discuss next steps and the importance of Latinos in the Northeast seeing themselves as a regional force. He explained the NiLP would be following up by coordinating information between those present and other Latino advocates through its Latino Voting Rights Network information service.
The Northeast Latino Redistricting Meeting was made possible through the generous contribution of their meeting facilities by SEIU 32 BJ and donations by an anonymous member of the Friends of NiLP and of meeting participant Tony Affigne. The meeting was staffed by the following volunteers, to whom we extend our deepest appreciation: Juan Cartagena, Myra Estepa-Lee, Pedro Fuentes, Marta Garcia, Francisco Gomez Caterers, Lucia Gomez-Jimenez, Victoria Gomez-Jimenez, Mildred Jurado, Alyssa Kilani Lee, Saul Nieves, Savanna Rose Rivera, Yvette Rivera, and Jose R. Sanchez (NiLP Chair and photographer).
PowerPoint of Presentations
Download by clicking here
Brennan Center for Social Justice, click here
US Department of Justice
For information on the Voting Rights Act, click here
Funders Committee for Civic Participation
Southern Coalition for Social Justice
To sign up for the NiLP’s Latino Voting Rights Network, click here