Despite a widespread expectation that census data released this week will show significant growth of the US Latino population, experts remain concerned about undercounting and the potential political impact of redistricting on Latino communities across the US.
Census data that is scheduled to be released on Thursday, August 12 is expected to show that the number of white Americans in the US is in decline for the first time since the census began.
Latinos, on the other hand, are expected to be the fastest growing demographic in the country.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis published in July 2020, Latinos accounted for more than half - 52% - of US population growth. By 2019, the number of US Latinos had reached 60.6 million, making up 18% of the country's total population.
Despite the growing number, census experts and Latino organizations have warned that any undercount of the US Latino population could have a negative impact on the community's political power.
"The political impacts of the census are huge," explained Jared Carter, an expert and professor at Vermont Law School. "Political power is based on numerical power. If Latinx communities are undercounted in the census, as many fear they will be, the direct result is less political power."
Across the country, several organizations have announced plans to ensure that the Latino population is fairly represented once redistricting begins in the wake of the census results.
CHC BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, for example, earlier this week announced a "six-figure" to help local Latino organizations launch grassroots efforts to fight for fair district maps, particularly in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.
"Redistricting will dictate how Latino communities in the halls of Congress for the next decade," BOLD PAC Chairman and Arizona Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego said in a statement sent to LPO. "BOLD PAC will help fight for a fair redistricting process so that the voting power of Latinos - and their ability to elect diverse representatives who reflect their values - is not diluted."
"By partnering with local organizations in critical states nationwide, BOLD PAC will help grassroots organizers advocate for fair districts that are not manipulated through partisan gerrymandering and untethered from the popular will.
According to Carter, concerns about redistricting are not unfounded.
"As there has been since the founding of the United States as a country, there is, today, a coordinated effort by some to limit the ability of racial and ethnic minorities to participate in the electoral process. In short, to limit their political power," he said. "The ultimate goal of some partisans remains the same: to maintain power at the expense of a growing population of racial and ethnic minorities."
For months, Latino organizations have sounded the alarm over initial census results. In April, for example, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) CEO Arturo Vargas said his organization was "surprised" by the initial figures, which showed state population totals and determined House seats.
"The figures reflect the second-slowest population growth in our nation's history," he said. "States with significant Latino populations projected to gain congressional seats either failed to do so (Arizona) or gained fewer than projected (Florida and Texas)."
Carter said that local organizing remains the best way for Latinos to ensure they are fairly represented.
" Get involved. Redistricting is done differently in each state. But, in each state there are opportunities to participate in the process and organizations that do just that," he added. "For example, in some states the state legislative bodies do the work and in others there are independent commissions."
"Either way, this should be a public process so individuals can, and should reach out to their local representatives and make their voices heard," Carter said. "Call, email, write letters, testify - all of these make a difference and are really the only way to ensure that redistricting and federal funding is as equitable as possible."
Among the local organizations that has already made its own proposal is the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization (CLLARO), which has proposed its own legislative map it says give a more equitable voice to Latinos. The map would create 16 seats in the state house with 30% or more Latino populations, as well as 10 in the state senate.
In a written statement, the organization said that the current maps "do not respect the unique needs of Latinos across the state."
"The maps diminish our voting power by diluting existing Latino districts," CLARRO said. "The Commission failed to consider the reality that Latinos across the state have different needs."
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