Political redistricting may ultimately disenfranchise large segments of New York State's population of Latino voters, according to analysts in the state.
In April, the Census Bureau announced that New York's congressional delegation will shrink by one seat following the 2022 election, after falling just 89 residents short of having the number of people needed to hold onto the seat in the House of Representatives. Instead, the seat went to Minnesota, which came close to losing a seat.
Later this week, the Census Bureau is also expected to release new data that state legislatures and local governments across the country use to re-draw political districts for the next decade.
In an interview with LPO, Patricia Swann, program director for the New York Community Trust - a New York City-based grant making foundation involved in encouraging people in the state to vote - noted that for Latino communities, the census and redistricting efforts ultimately come down to "money and political power."
"In terms of money, there are billions of dollars in federal programs, such as infrastructure and healthcare programs, support for schools, billions every year that are allocated to the States, as based on a per capita formula that is derived from the census," she said. "Every 10 years, we get to help determine that formula. That's one reason this is about money for our communities."
"The second reason is political power. We've shifted into that part of the census process where it's about using the census numbers to create districts that determine how people vote" she added. "Everything from the congressional district level down to school boards and county districts is determined by census numbers."
According to Swann, political redistricting in New York has traditionally been used to maintain a Republican-controlled State Senate and a Democrat-controlled State Assembly. Currently, both are majority-controlled by Democrats.
Additionally, Swann explained that in the past, political redistricting meant that large urban districts - such as Rochester, Buffalo or Syracuse - were split apart and combined with surrounding, rural districts.
"That disproportionately affected American-American and Latinx communities that were primarily concentrated in those urban centers," she said. "I'm leaving out New York City because we're an outlier, because the city is just so large, and it's just so blue and predominantly Democratic. But the history of gerrymandering in New York State did affect and continues to impact these upstate cities."
As an additional example, Swann pointed to Long Island - a densely populated part of the state that is home to a growing Latino population. Data shows that approximately 17.5% of Nassau County is Latino, while nearly 20% of the population of neighboring Suffolk County is.
"The population growth in Long Island has predominantly been in the Latinx community. Going forward, if it [Long Island] continues with the previous practices of redistricting, it really has the potential of really disenfranchising Latinx people."
"Long Island is one of those places that are very vulnerable to having strong political districts in a way that's favorable to either incumbents or to maintain the Republican balance of power in the state legislature."
The New York State Census Equity Fund - which was established in the New York Community Trust in 2018 - has over the last three years awarded $3.6 million to promote a fair and accurate count in New York.
Among the organizations that have received grants through the NYSCEF in areas with significant Latino populations are the Latino Long Beach Civic Association, Hispanic Brotherhood in Suffolk and Nassau Countries, the NY Immigration Coalition in and Mixteca, on Staten Island.
Sol Marie Alfonso Jones, a senior program officer at the Long Island Community Foundation, said that the importance of the census is starkly highlighted by eastern Long Island, parts of which are home to Latino populations of up to 30% of all residents.
"As most other rural communities, the needs are growing, and services are insufficient," she said. "There is inadequate housing and public transportation. Addressing these service gaps is dependent on accurate census data."
Swann, for her part, said that the commitment of Latino and African-American communities throughout the state to the most recent census has already proven the community's power.
"We did pretty good...population growth in the state of New York is disproportionately due to a growth in its Latinx population," she said. "If it weren't for their commitment, we most likely have lost two congressional seats."
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