Gerrymandering – Fighting The Hidden Weapon of Disenfranchisement
By: Darwin Campbell
SAN ANTONIO- One of the most basic and important rights African Americans enjoy in the United States is the right to vote and elect its own representatives to be their voices in Austin and Washington D.C.
In an effort to preserve White Power in local and state and federal governments, the secret constitutional weapon to suppress and control Black and Brown voting power has been gerrymandering or redistricting.
“People are worried about the demographic changes in our country so they are actively trying to turn back the clock to a time when we were under political control,” said the Honorable Gary Bledsoe, leader and President of the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “White votes are worth 3 times what Black or Brown votes are worth in Texas because of an egregious racial gerrymander. And with the voter ID law, even the one just passed, we know it is more difficult to vote today that it was in 2010.”
Since the Great Reconstruction period of American history when Blacks used their new found freedom, rights and great power to elect representatives at every level of government and has a strong presence from the local courthouse to statehouses and Congress, there has been a concerted effort to dwarf Black power and voices or silence them altogether using a method of drawing representative districts that reduce or prevent the election of Black and Brown candidates to political offices.
Gerrymandering, the practice of drawing self-serving political boundaries, is as old as the country itself. Its impetus, one could argue, is even older and deeper-seated, grounded in the fundamentals of human nature.
In the United States, it has been practiced since the founding of the country to strengthen the power of particular political interests within legislative bodies.
Partisan gerrymandering commonly used to increase the power of a political party. In some instances, political parties collude to protect incumbents by engaging in bipartisan gerrymandering. After racial minorities were enfranchised, some jurisdictions engaged in racial gerrymandering to weaken the political power of racial minority voters, while others engaged in racial gerrymandering to strengthen the power of minority voters.
“Negative racial gerrymandering” refers to a process in which district lines are drawn to prevent racial minorities from electing their preferred candidates. Between the Reconstruction Era and mid-20th century, white Southern Democrats effectively controlled redistricting throughout the southern United States.
In areas where some African-American and other minorities succeeded in registering, some states created districts that were gerrymandered to reduce the voting impact of minorities. Minorities were effectively deprived of their franchise into the 1960s.
Throughout the 20th century, courts have grappled with the legality of these types of gerrymandering and have devised different standards for the different types of gerrymandering.
In Texas, the controversy is raging and the process is no different from what is done nationally.
According to Bledsoe, three federal judges in San Antonio are examining the issues and could make a ruling in Texas that would determine if the state intentionally weaken voting rights for millions of Texans just because of their skin color.
He added that the 1965 Civil Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in voting. One key piece of that legislation allows for the creation of “majority-minority” districts. The aim of “majority-minority” districts is to avoid or remedy the drawing of redistricting plans that diminish the ability of a racial or language minority to elect its candidates of choice.
However, even this bedrock premise of the Act is under attack and being challenged by powers that want to erode Black and Brown voting power and render it ineffective in the elective process, he said.
According to the NAACP argument, the state only adopted the court’s interim maps to avoid additional scrutiny and never planned to fix the discrimination that’s “deeply steeped” in the maps.
“Texas puts a premium on non minority votes and we are trying to bring it back in line with the Constitution,” Blesoe said. “White voters control the outcome in 25 of 36 Congressional Districts even though they are less than 45 percent of the population. What we are hoping is to gain a fairer map for minorities through litigation. We are proud to be fighting with groups like LULAC.”
How Did We Get Here?
After fresh census data came out in 2010, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature drafted new political boundaries. Minority rights groups immediately raised a red flag, calling the new state and congressional maps discriminatory toward Latino and black voters across Texas.
A court drew temporary maps ahead of the 2012 elections in response; lawmakers formally adopted those in 2013 and the state has used them ever since.
Then, just last April, the panel ruled that Texas lawmakers intentionally in 2011 undercut the political clout of voters of color with its 2011 maps and created House districts that resulted in “even less proportional representation” for minority voters.
They found that Texas lawmakers either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the strength of minority voters with those House districts — echoing an earlier ruling that some of the congressional districts did the same thing.
“After prevailing in the litigation regarding the 2011 maps we are hopeful that we might prevail now on the 2013 maps,” Bledsoe said. “Unwarranted fears of minority voting must be addressed as we see national efforts to focus on the bogus claim of widespread voter fraud.”
Bledsoe said for Black and Brown communities, the political stakes are high. A ruling from the court could result in legislative and congressional boundaries that are less ideal for Republican candidates. Some are hoping the legal wrangling could lead to Texas being placed back under federal electoral oversight years after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling freed them from that guardianship.
End Game – Less Apathy & More Participation
Black people must register to vote, go to the polls on election day and exercise their rights as citizens and demand proper representation.
“Our community and many friendly communities are under assault, as we see bogus claims of voter fraud being used to generate invasive inquiries seeking personal and confidential data from American voters,” he said. “We must support efforts of the NAACP and like minded groups to try and stem this dangerous tide.”
According to Bledsoe, it is incumbent on more Black voters to work hard to move from low information voter status to active and loud voices in the Democratic process.
No one political party or government holds the key to solving all the problems and issues facing Black America. It is the actions of the people that changes things.
The Challenges Ahead
After we have secured our most basic and precious right to vote as Americans, the next step is turnout and participation in the process on a regular basis for every seat available in public service and working to ensure that we elect people who will go to Houston City Hall, HISD School Board, State Representatives and Senate in Austin and Representatives and Senators in Washington who will be an unapologetic voice, speak loudly and carry the torch on issues affecting our community.