Friday, August 12, 2005

Minority-Majority Voting Districts - The Real Story

Question: What is the purpose of a minority - majority voting district? (making sure that there are some voting districts where the minority population is actually the majority of voters in the district).
Answer: The intended effect and the actual effect are two different things.

The theory goes something like this. When a jurisdiction changes the voting district lines, the elected officials are required to ensure that the minority population is fairly represented. The current method of accomplishing this is to create districts where minority populations have a majority of the vote. But the districts must be created in the same proportion as the minority is to the rest of the population. Maybe a little math will help. Suppose 27% of a city is Chinese and there are five council seats. The city MUST create one voting district (1 of 5) which at least 51% or greater Chinese. That means that this minority-majority district will elect 20% of the City Council. This ratio assumes that the Chinese citizens will have a good opportunity to elect a Chinese representative. They ARE NOT required to create two minority-majority districts because that would be 2/5 or 40% of the council seats and that would exceed the 27% rate of the minority population.

So what effect does this have on the makeup of legislative bodies? Ken Masugi at The Local Liberty blog talks about this in Roberts and Voting Rights. My own experience mirrors what he has to say. Democrats tend to believe that this ensures minority representation and republicans are more than happy to guarantee that minority voting strength is concentrated in one district.

There have been many studies on the subject with many different conclusions. In my own jurisdiction, the minority populations tend to have very heavy voter turnout. This generally means that a minority representative is elected in this district. The irony is that the turnout is so heavy that if these citizens were more evenly distributed, there is a chance two or three minority representatives may be elected to the council. I guess it’s good that one district is guaranteed but I would rather take a chance on two or three districts than be guaranteed one.