FiveThirtyEight: “[T]he legacy of this redistricting cycle for people of color could be even worse than not giving them more representation; it could undermine the very law designed to ensure their enfranchisement.”
One solution: Moving to proportional representation, ensuring that every voice is heard
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nathaniel Rakich recently reported in FiveThirtyEight on the redistricting cycle’s negative effect on representation for people of color in the United States. With Voting Rights Act protections stripped away and the number of majority-minority districts not increasing in proportion with minority-driven population growth, people of color in the United States are facing yet more barriers to fair representation in congress.
The core problem that allows this is the system of single-winner districts with plurality voting used by the House of Representatives. Our electoral system – not just the process of manipulating district lines, but the system that requires drawing the lines in the first place – makes this lack of representation possible.
As Fix Our House co-founder Lee Drutman has written, “In a single-winner context, ‘fair’ districts are at best a chimera and at worst an oxymoron. Trying to maximize across competing values in single-member districts forces too many trade-offs—trade-offs that are simply not present in proportional systems.”
The equitable alternative is proportional representation with multi-winner districts.
As George Cheung of More Equitable Democracy (and a Fix Our House board member) has said: “Under proportional representation, communities of color, regardless of how much they are segregated, are more likely to be able to elect candidates of their choosing.”
Listen to George Cheung speaking about proportional representation here.
Read Lee Drutman on the problems of single-winner districts here.
Read the full FiveThirtyEight story here. Excerpts are included below:
“Partisanship is not the only way to measure how fair the country’s new congressional maps are. Equally important is how well they represent communities of color. And on this front, the congressional lines that will be used in the 2022 election leave a lot to be desired. . .”
“[S]tates often end up drawing fewer predominantly nonwhite districts than are possible. Just look at the most recent redistricting cycle’s report card. On the one hand, nonwhite Americans — namely Latinos — did gain clout in some states, but they lost it in others. And most importantly, racial minorities didn’t gain representation in several states where they easily could have. . .”
“[T]he two districts covering Detroit (Michigan’s 13th and 14th districts) were each formerly 53 percent Black by VAP. But their successors (renumbered the 12th and 13th districts, respectively) are significantly less so. The 13th District is 45 percent Black and 40 percent white, while the 12th District is 47 percent white and just 44 percent Black. While it’s still possible that these districts will elect Black voters’ preferred candidates, it’s less likely than it was before. . .”
“Something similar happened with Georgia’s 2nd District and North Carolina’s 1st District. These districts, which have historically elected Black candidates, got ever so slightly less Black (Georgia’s 2nd went from 49 percent Black and 41 percent white to 48 percent Black and 43 percent white; North Carolina’s 1st went from 48 percent white and 41 percent Black to 50 percent white and 40 percent Black). . .”
“This may not seem like a big deal, but because voting in the South is so polarized by race, this was enough to make each district a few percentage points more Republican; Georgia’s 2nd went from a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of D+6 to D+4, while North Carolina’s 1st went from a partisan lean of D+7 to D+5. In other words, they are competitive enough that it’s possible that Republicans will win them in 2022, which is already shaping up to be a good midterm environment for the GOP. If so, these districts will have failed to elect Black voters’ preferred candidate for the first time in decades. . .”
“The worst news for nonwhite representation this cycle, however, was the progress that was not made. In several states, people of color did not gain electoral control of seats that have historically been denied to them or that they were arguably entitled to because of population growth.
Texas is the canonical example of the latter. The Lone Star State grew by 4 million people between the 2010 and 2020 censuses — earning the state two more congressional districts — and 95 percent of that growth was, on net, due to people of color. However, the state went from 18 majority-minority districts to … 18 majority-minority districts. . .”
“The Supreme Court will issue a final decision on the Alabama case as part of its 2022-23 term, but given the court’s history of weakening the Voting Rights Act and willingness to consider other challenges to civil-rights policies, it is unlikely to err on the side of more nonwhite representation. More likely, it will change the historical interpretation of the Voting Rights Act and water down the act’s protections of minority districts.”