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Redistricting expected to increase black influence.

The process of redistricting, which officially began last year, has political analysts predicting that the 1992 Congressional elections may result in the addition of as many as 18 new black-elected officials to Congress. Despite positive reactions from the black community, there are concerns that an increase in minority representation may indirectly hurt the Democratic Party and may not always be the most effective way to increase the overall influence of minorities in the country.

Every 10 years, the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are reapportioned to reflect the population shifts among the 50 states. This time around, minority organizations and civil rights groups are filing lawsuits under provisions in the Voting Rights Act to create "minority districts" to ensure an increase in minority representatives. (Minority districts have one racial minority, which accounts for 65% or more of the voter population.) The act, which was enacted in 1965 primarily to prevent southern states from disenfranchising black voters, requires that each voting district within a state have approximately equal populations and that redistricting plans do not discriminate against the voting power of racial or ethnic minorities.

Clearly, few politicians will publicly reject increasing minority representatives of government. However, since the 435 seats in Congress cannot be expanded, there are going to be winners and losers. The big winners will undoubtedly be the newly elected minority candidates. And because some minorities identify more with the Democratic Party, the big losers are more likely to be white democratic incumbents.

"We have an opportunity for quantum expansion of our participation at the tables of politics," says Antonio L. Harrison, project director of the Washington, D.C.-based Electoral Participation Project. Harrison says that because the courts and the Department of Justice have supported minority claims for greater political representation, "I am optimistically predicting that we can expand the number of black congressional representatives by 10 to 18 and add Hispanic expansion by another eight to 12."

However, the potential expansion of minority representatives has many Democrats worried. "The fear of displacement is real, and in a few places it is justified," says Sonia Jarvis, executive director of the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation Inc. Some white politicians, such as Tom McMillen (D-Md.), who Jarvis says has a good voting record on minority issues, have decided not to run in a new minority district created in Maryland. McMillen may instead challenge a Republican in another district.

Brenda Wright, a staff attorney with the Voting Rights Project of the Washington, D.C.-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says the displacement of Democratic incumbents has been overstated. She explained that the real losses to the party may be felt in states like New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which have actually lost seats due to shrinking populations. She also points out that most of the Democrats affected by redistricting are at retirement age or are less influential members of the party. "You may see incumbents displaced, but they will be replaced by other Democrats," says Wright. "It [redistricting] should

MORE BLACK POWER
 Projected Increases
 in Black Congressional
 Representation after Redistricting
STATE CURRENT POTENTIAL GAIN
Alabama 0 +2
Florida 0 +2
Georgia 1 +2
Louisiana 1 +1
Maryland 1 +1
Massachusetts 0 +1
New York 4 +1
North Carolina 0 +2
Ohio 1 +1
Pennsylvania 1 +1
South Carolina 0 +1
Texas 1 +1
Virginia 0 +2
All other states 16 0
Total 26 18
Source: Electoral Participation Project, Survey of Projected
Political Participation, Washington, D.C., 1991.


have the positive effect of increasing diversity and the representation of groups who have been traditionally underrepresented."

Jarvis says the Democratic Party has another concern. "By drawing more minority districts, you run the risk of creating more white districts surrounding them," she explains. "The theory is that more white districts will contain more conservative voters, giving Republicans a better shot at electing a representative."

If more Republicans are elected, minorities might diminish their overall influence on national politics even though they increase their representatives. Jarvis says that minorities might want to consider creating several "influence districts" (which have about a 40% minority voter population) to persuade a greater number of politicians to respond to their needs.

The New York City-based NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is helping communities across the country decide which type of districts will benefit them most. The organization is involved in Voting Rights Act litigation in Texas, Illinois, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Defense Fund director-counsel Julius Chambers says, depending on the jurisdiction and historical voting patterns, minority districts or influence districts can benefit minorities. "The question is, 'Do voters have the ability to elect a candidate that is responsive to their needs?' If not then they should insist on a district formula that will enable them to do that. There isn't any single answer."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Scott, Matthew S.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:809
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