The United States continues to fall short in fairly reflecting its diversity in elected offices. Our widespread use of a winner-take-all rule -- that is, one where the biggest group of voters can win 100% of representation -- presents a challenge to candidates who are not the preferred choice of a majority of voters.
The problem of under-representation is less acute in the U.S. House than statewide races, but is still significant.
With the upcoming launch of the Fair Representation Act, legislation in Congress to end winner-take-all elections, in the coming week we will examine the state of representation of people of color in the current Congress and how it might change with enactment of the Fair Representation Act.
The first entry in this series discussed African American representation in the South. This installment looks at the Fair Representation Act’s impact on Latino representation in five states in the American Southwest.
As of the 2010 Census, just over half (53.6%) of the United States’ Latino population lived in five states: California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Collectively, these states send 105 representatives to the House.
The citizen voting age population of these states is roughly one-third Latino (32.4%), so one would reasonably expect their House delegations to reflect that. In reality, however, Latino voters are consistently underrepresented across the region.
Of the region’s 105 representatives, only 22 are Latino (21%).
The most recent census found that Latinos made up 33.6% of its voting age population, but only 9 of the state’s 36 congressional districts (25%) are majority Latino. (A federal court has found that three of Texas’ congressional districts were gerrymandered to dilute Latino votes, but litigation continues).
Latinos hold five of these nine districts, along with one other seat, putting them at just 16.7% of Texas’ House delegation. Only 49% of voting age Texas Latinos live in a district where the Latino Citizen Voting Age Population (“CVAP”) meets the threshold to elect a candidate.
In New Mexico, only one of the state’s three districts (33.3%) has a Latino plurality, even though Latinos make up 42.3% of the state’s CVAP. Just 36.5% of New Mexico’s voting age Latinos live in that district.
In Arizona, where 25% of the state’s CVAP is Latino, two of the state’s 9 districts (22.2%) are majority or plurality Latino, and are home to 46.3% of the Arizona’s Latinos of voting age. Nevada, whose voting age population is 22.3% Latino, has no majority or plurality Latino districts.
The current congressional delegations of these states is more representative of their demographics, which shows the potential for Latino candidates having crossover appeal in this region.
Two of New Mexico’s three representatives are Latino, as is one of Nevada’s four representatives.
Both of Arizona’s two majority Latino districts are represented by Latinos (although no other districts in the state are).
In addition to those five House seats, these states have two Republican governors who are Latino, in Nevada and New Mexico, and a Democratic U.S. senator in Nevada.
In California, however, Latinos make up 33.1% of its voting age population, but are the majority or a plurality in 16 of its 53 congressional districts (30.2%) and hold 11 seats (20.8%). (That number increases to 14 if counting the three Portuguese-Americans who self-identify as Hispanic, bringing the proportion of representation to 26.4%. This would increase the region’s total to 25 Latino/Hispanic representatives, or 23.8% of the representatives from the region).
Unlike Texas, any discrepancies between California’s population and its congressional representation cannot be blamed on a state legislature seeking partisan advantage.
California's districts are drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, an independent body explicitly charged with drawing districts consistent with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and forbidden from drawing districts with the purpose of favoring or disfavoring particular parties or candidates.
California’s decision to remove the legislature from the redistricting process is an important and welcome step toward fair representation but, as the numbers show, it alone is not enough.
Since congressional elections are winner-take-all, any demographic group that does not have a majority or significant plurality of a district’s CVAP is unlikely to elect the candidate of its choice, and will see its own political influence limited accordingly.
The Fair Representation Act eliminates this problem through its use of ranked choice voting (“RCV”) and multi-winner districts. Under the FRA, Texas would go from 36 single member districts to eight multi-winner districts - six districts with 5 seats each and two with 3 seats.
In one plan generated by Auto-Redistrict, each district has a Latino CVAP over the threshold necessary to elect at least one representative, and in some of these districts the Latino community would be able to elect two or three candidates of choice.
In this plan, the number of candidates Texas’ Latino population would be able to elect would go from 9 to 13, increasing its representation in the state’s House delegation from 25% to 36.1%, an amount much more representative of the Latino share of Texas’ voting age population (33.6%).
Currently, 49% of Latino Texans live in a district where the Latino CVAP is above the threshold to elect a candidate. Under this plan, that would increase to 100%.
Editor's note: This article, written by Rob Richie, originally published on FairVote's blog. It is part two of a multi-part series on the Fair Representation Act's impact on minority voters, and has been modified slightly for publication on IVN.
Photo Credit: Erik Hersman / Flickr