WESTMINSTER, California—Another lawsuit against newly drawn electoral districts could change realities for underrepresented voters, as well as inspire future suits.
On 23 November 2011, former Mariposa Republican Congress member George Radanovich and other Republicans filed a lawsuit with the California Supreme Court against the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s (CRC) newly drawn congressional district (CD) maps.
Before the CRC was created in 2008 by the voter initiative known as Proposition 11, State lawmakers created their own districts, giving them the power to shape the borders that would keep them elected.
The CRC was given the task of considering public comments throughout the spring and summer of 2011 while drawing congressional, Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization maps to be used in elections during the next ten years.
Along with reflecting 2010 census data, the new maps were to adhere to strict guidelines including the Voting Rights Act (VRA) which in its basic meaning is meant to keep minority votes from being diluted.
Former Congress member Radanovich’s suit claims that the CRC violated the VRA. However, rather than diluting minority votes, he believes it protects Democrat minority incumbents.
The suit alleges that the CRC drew CD maps that spread an African American population in Los Angeles (LA) county into three separate districts, rather than pack them into one or two.
As the suit claims that the LA African American voting age population (VAP) is decreasing, rather than growing, splitting the community is considered unmerited because minority communities that are not growing do not need to be split, as they will probably not expand into surrounding areas.
Former Congress member Radanovich wants the State Supreme Court to throw out the CRC’s maps and have court appointed “special masters” draw new ones.
However, in October the State Supreme Court denied former Congress member Radanovich’s earlier lawsuit, which was also against the CRC’s CD maps.
Throwing out the CRC maps could affect Westminster’s Little Saigon community as the maps remove a portion of CD 47’s Vietnamese American voters from the district and put some into coastal CD 48 and some in CD 46, which includes Santa Ana and Orange.
Unlike the LA African American communities mentioned in the lawsuit, the Orange County (OC) Vietnamese American community’s VAP is growing. Such growth is considered to allow for splits as they encourage minority communities to expand.
Although the Coalition of Asian and Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting (CAPAFR) has reported that Little Saigon’s new CDs will diminish the Vietnamese American vote, there have been no lawsuits filed on behalf of the Vietnamese American community specifically.
Over the 2011 summer, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) was reportedly considering a lawsuit against the CD maps; however the Viễn Đông has not received comment back on whether such plans could still go forward.
Because redistricting lawsuits are costly, can take years for decisions, and the filer/s must prove that certain criteria were disregarded in the drawing of districts, it is risky to file redistricting suits alleging VRA violations.
Also, the general public is not usually aware of the rights they have under the VRA, which could make filing even less probable, regardless of possible redistricting injustices.
VRA, Section 2
The federal VRA was the CRC’s number two priority, after making sure all district maps contained as equal VAP populations as possible.
Section 2 of the VRA reads that no citizen should be disallowed a vote based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group.
Minority groups who feel their VRA rights have been violated do not need to prove that maps were intentionally drawn to discriminate against them; rather, they need to prove that the maps offer them less opportunity to participate in the voting process than other groups.
For example, a minority group can claim it is a victim of “cracking,” or having its group split, though it is large enough to form a single majority-minority district, which is a district where minorities make up 50 percent or more VAP.
Or, a minority group can claim it is a victim of “packing,” which is concentrating minority voters within a single district, limiting their influence on surrounding districts.
To prove it has had its VRA rights violated, a minority group must first show that it is large enough and geographically compact enough to form a single majority-minority district.
A minority group must then show that its members tend to vote along the same political lines, as well as show that the White voters within its district tend to vote against the minority group’s preferred candidate.
As Little Saigon, currently shares CD 47 with a larger Latino population, in what is called a minority-coalition district, or a type of majority-minority district where two or more minority groups are combined within a single district, it is large enough to form a single majority-minority district.
The trickier part is showing the tendency for members to vote along the same political lines, as pertaining to party Latinos tend to vote Democrat and Vietnamese Americans tend to vote Republican.
Whites are actually the minorities in the district, giving Latinos and Vietnamese Americans more power to elect their preferred candidate, respectively.
For more information on the VRA, visit online at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/intro/intro.php.