Dear Hispanic Community of Wisconsin,
Last October, Voces de la Frontera - a Latino immigrant rights group from Milwaukee - filed a lawsuit against the State’s Government Accountability Board alleging that the redistricting maps drawn by Republican legislators disenfranchised Latino voters. They argued that the newly drawn maps (hereafter called Act 43) denied south-side Latinos of the 8th Assembly district an effective voting majority.
This rebuttal is in response to the lawsuit and is written on behalf of those Latinos who continue to support the new mapping of the South-side. The overwhelming evidence presented by the experts who testified in this case has made it clear that Hispanics were not disenfranchised, but politically empowered for the next 10 years.
Here are the facts:
Last year, Act 43 created two majority voting age districts for Milwaukee Latinos, namely the 8th and the 9th Assembly districts; this is an increase from just a single district held over the past ten years. The state’s new redistricting map increased the 8th Assembly District from a Latino voting age population of 58% in 2000 to 60% in 2010 and also increased the 9th Assembly District from a Latino voting age population of 22% in 2000 to 54% in 2010.
The current elected Representative of the 8th Assembly District is JoCasta Zamarripa (D), a Latina of Mexican-American heritage. Zamarripa’s predecessor was Pedro Colon (D), a Latino who had been elected five times consecutively demonstrating that the 8th Assembly District has been an effective voting age district for Latinos since 1998.
What does this mean? It means that increasing the Latino voting age population (VAP) of the 8th Assembly District by 2% from the 2000 Census will not make their Hispanic representation any less effective than it has been for the past 14 years while a Latino Representative held the seat.
Although redistricting done throughout the state uses a common metric such as “voting age population” for redrawing district lines, Voces de la Frontera has preferred their own metric of “citizen” voting age population to determine what is an effective Latino population.
The plaintiff's argument against Act 43 is that there are not enough Hispanic “citizens” of voting age in the new 8th District to elect a Hispanic candidate of their choice. As inferred above, this conclusion is without merit. Hispanics of the 8th district have, beyond a shadow of a doubt, elected their candidate of choice with less “citizen” voting age Hispanics than they have in the past.
Voces de la Frontera’s expert witness testified that under Act 43, Hispanics in the 8th Assembly district have over 50% of the eligible voters who are “citizens” in this year’s election cycle (2012) while non-Hispanic voters are well under 34%. Based on history, It is hard to conceive any scenario in which packing more Hispanic voters into the 8th district would yield more benefit.
For instance, including just citizenship as a standard for redrawing district lines, the 8th Assembly district will have over 50% of Latinos capable of voting. It would appear then that Latinos don’t have an effective voting population. However, the overall population of Latinos in the 8th district is 66%, which means that only 34% of non-Hispanic residents will remain. If you factor in those who are not yet voting age, they will pose no problems for Latinos in the 8th Assembly district to elect a candidate of choice.
Despite having almost identical populations (roughly 6% each), the African American community, due to their concentration in Milwaukee’s North-side, are rightfully afforded six voting majority Assembly districts as well as two effective voting majority Senate districts, while Hispanics only have two Assembly districts and no Senate districts. This is primarily due to the dispersion of Latinos throughout Wisconsin - 72% living outside of Milwaukee - in contrast to the concentration of the African-American population in Milwaukee.
This comparison is helpful to make the case that Hispanics need more than one Assembly district based on overall population. Despite a 74% increase since 2000 (from 220,000 to 363,000), Voces de la Frontera suggests that Hispanics should fight to keep only one packed supermajority district instead of promoting the creation of two Assembly districts with an opportunity for one Senate district. To put it another way, with the explosive population growth in the Hispanic community, possessing a single Assembly district for 20 years is unacceptable.
Much controversy surrounding this lawsuit has to do with legislative procedures and not the facts. Claims of “secrecy” and illegal caucuses are at the forefront of the debate dominating the headlines. What needs to be remembered is that despite any potential infractions by those responsible for drawing the state maps, it does not change the need of giving Wisconsin’s Hispanic community proper representation.
It is unlikely that the lawsuit brought forth by Voces de la Frontera - which effectively reduces Latino representation in Milwaukee - will prevail in the courts. However, if other issues not directly related to the Federal Voting Rights Act cause the state's redistricting maps to be tossed and redrawn, it would contravene any progress made on behalf of Latinos in the 8th and 9th Assembly districts.
According to the latest Pew Hispanic Research data, the average age of Latinos born in the United States is seventeen. Also, every 1 in 4 Americans under the age of eighteen is Hispanic, which suggests that the political representation of Latinos in the 8th and 9th Assembly districts will continue to increase year by year. Considering these growth projections, packing more Latinos into a supermajority district would waste vital votes necessary to secure proper political representation in the 9th district over the next ten years.
The City of Milwaukee has recently made changes that provide ballots in Spanish and encourage the participation of bilingual poll workers. This will go a long way to increase voter participation in the 8th and 9th districts. The goal for those who have the Hispanic community’s best interest in mind should be to increase the number of districts heavy with Hispanic voters and ensure they come out to vote. The goal should not be to ignore the growth of our community.
Lastly, it cannot be said more plainly than this:
Hispanics for Leadership did not endorse all aspects of Act 43, nor did we endorse the state’s redistricting process. To suggest otherwise is false! While we agree and support the efforts of Voces de la Frontera on immigrant rights, we respectfully disagree with their lawsuit against Act 43.
It is regrettable that Voces de la Frontera contacted our people to persuade them to recant their initial support and convince them that they were mislead. This act was offensive to many in our group and considered harassment by some. We believe that Hispanics can have differing opinions while maintaining decorum.
It was not our intention to weigh in on this lawsuit until Voces de la Frontera and Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa put our efforts and motives into question; we are not “token Latinos”. The goal of those whose names were attached to the written testimony of Hispanics for Leadership was and still is to support an increase in political representation for Wisconsin’s growing Hispanic community as lawfully afforded by the Federal Voting Right’s Act.
In your service,
Hispanics for Leadership
Dr. Javier Tapia