With the myriad of issues being discussed these days, there is a real important one we cannot forget. As the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to report the reapportionment count to President Obama by the end of the year -- and redistricting data to state legislatures by next April -- a new challenge awaits for the Latino community: redistricting.
There is no other process in our form of representative government that is more political or with higher stakes. Friends, allies, and nemeses all change. Partisan forces will use the redistricting process to protect the status quo or expand their power -- often trying to use the Latino community as a pawn. Latino community leaders who participate in the process and advocate for districts where Latinos can elect candidates of their choice need to remember this important lesson: Trust no one, and be loyal only to the Latino voter and the community.
Redistricting is about the redistribution of power, and power is not given away, it is taken. Latino community leaders need to ensure that our community gets its fair share of representation by participating in redistricting and being faithful to the interests of the community.
Latino activists should keep several important elements in mind:
Learn how redistricting will be conducted by your jurisdiction. Whether you are engaging in redistricting at the federal, state or local level, find out which authority will be drawing the lines, whether it will be the incumbents or some form of an independent redistricting commission.
Make sure Latinos have a role in the redistricting process. If the redistricting authority is a commission, insist on representation of Latinos who are familiar with the community. If the lines will be drawn by the incumbents, be sure the community participates in the public hearing process, testifies about the Latino community and what makes it a community of interest. Above all, insist on transparency. Too often the interests of the community are betrayed in backroom deals.
Prepare for possible litigation. Make sure community leaders coordinate carefully with attorneys expert in voting rights law who may file a suit should Latinos be disenfranchised in the process and the federal Voting Rights Act be violated. The engagement of the community in the redistricting process will most likely become part of the record used in litigation, including public testimony, the access community members had to data and software, and the lines the community leaders proposed.
Coalesce with other communities. Partisan forces will attempt to divide Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans. Latinos should make sure they understand the positions and interests of these other communities, and coordinate efforts.
Redistricting need not be a zero sum game. Conflict sometimes may be inevitable and communities will need to agree to disagree over a community's right under the Voting Rights Act. The issue of redistricting is too important to just watch from the sidelines.