By Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Earls will be a panelist at ACS's Voting Rights Symposium tomorrow. For information about the symposium, click here.
The latest reapportionment projections released by analysts yesterday have everyone guessing anew what the actual numbers will show when the Census Bureau officially delivers the results of the 2010 Census to the President at the end of this year.
New projections suggest that New York will lose two seats in Congress, and Florida will gain two. It has long been predicted that Texas will gain four seats, and that Georgia and South Carolina will gain one each. While predicting winning and losing states in the reapportionment shuffle is fun, the mystery will be over when the actual numbers are released in December.
The real suspense for this round of redistricting is not whether the Supreme Court will declare Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional before redistricting gets underway; the cases bringing that challenge are not likely to reach the court in time. Similarly predictable is the impact of President Obama's election on the ability to draw majority-minority districts to empower minority voters. Areas where levels of racially polarized voting have always been high continued to exhibit those voting patterns in the Obama election, and the continuing need for majority-Black or majority-Hispanic was recognized by the Supreme Court in Lulac v. Perry.
The real mystery this time around is whether community-based groups, nonprofit organizations and other nonpartisan entities will have an impact on the redistricting process. As Alliance for Justice has made clear in a recent fact sheet, there is a lot that nonprofit organizations can do related to redistricting. They have the ability to ensure that communities of interest are taken into account in the redistricting process, and to submit plans that achieve fair representation based on their understanding of whose voices should be heard. Will those who have the power to draw the lines make the process open and transparent so that the public can participate effectively? We have the technology. The only question is whether we have the will to make it happen.