Will their voices count?
North Carolina has grown so rapidly since 2010 that it will win a new seat in Congress. Latinos are more responsible for this growth than anyone. With the rise of the Hispanic population, will the redistribution help bring more political power to these communities? Read The News & Observer’s special report.
The 2020 census showed that over the past decade, North Carolina’s massive population growth – enough to win the state a new 14th seat in the United States House of Representatives – was driven by the new Latino residents more than any other group.
So, with Latinos being the biggest force behind North Carolina’s recent growth, many in that community are advocating for the current redistribution process with the state legislature to include them this year.
They want assurance that, thanks to the way the new political maps of the state are drawn, Latino voters will have a better chance over the next decade to make their voices heard – at least in some parts of the country. State where they are the most numerous.
“We don’t have the resources that our community needed for many reasons,” said Ivan Almonte, a Mexican-American activist from Durham who led a group of Latino residents to a recent public hearing on the redistribution. “So I was encouraged to say to people, ‘You need access to equitable housing, you need access to health care, you need your voice to be heard”. “
From 2010 to 2020 North Carolina added 318,000 new Hispanic residents and 88,000 new white residents, a ratio of nearly 4 to 1. During the same period, the state also added 88,000 new black residents, 133,000 new Asian residents, and 251,000 who identify as multiracial.
Although more than 10% of North Carolinians are Hispanic today, only one of the state’s 170 lawmakers is Hispanic and no member of the state’s congressional delegation is.
As the Republican-led legislature works in the days and weeks to come to draw new political maps for the next decade, a big question will be how to deal with the new data that shows the state has become less rural and more diverse.
Where could the cards affect Latino voters the most?
The legislature has conducted several rounds of redistribution over the past decade, including up to 2019, but all of these maps were based on old demographics from 2010. It’s required by law, and that meant even in 2019, lawmakers essentially had to ignore the previous nine years of growth and change. But new maps being drawn must now use data from 2020, which has given Latino activists hope.
Almonte, for example, has said he has lived in Durham for over 20 years, but this is the first time he has seen a concerted effort by local Latinos to pressure the redistribution.
And Durham is one of the places in North Carolina where a high-density Latin American district might be most likely, if lawmakers choose to do so, at least one outside expert has said.
A political scientist from the University of West Georgia whose research focuses on Latinos in Southern politics, J. Salvador Peralta, said that North Carolina counties with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents – and Hispanic voters – tend to be rural and agricultural communities. But those rural areas might not be the areas most likely to lead to strongly Hispanic districts that could elect Hispanic politicians.
Because all political districts must have similar populations and these rural areas are small, they will need to be combined with other neighboring communities that do not necessarily have the same type of Hispanic population. Instead, Peralta said, the places most likely to see potential neighborhoods with great Latino influence would be Charlotte or Durham, the two cities with the largest Hispanic populations.
Almonte said that with the growth of Durham’s Latino population, they can better lobby politicians to listen to them – but it becomes more difficult if their community is divided on the new maps, instead of to stay together.
“We have 90% Latino neighborhoods where crime is high, the landlords intimidate people, but you don’t see politicians there,” he said. “They can come during an election, but after the end, they disappear.”
Peralta said there are two reasons why urban areas might be the most likely places for Hispanic voter-friendly districts. First, population density makes it easier. Second, there are also political considerations to take into account.
Hispanic voters are Democrats, he said, but they are less strongly Democrats than black voters. Many are unaffiliated voters. So Republican redistricting lawmakers could make inroads into urban areas where they have fought politically, he said, giving Hispanic voters more votes in one or two districts – then convincing them to support them. Republicans, and maybe return a seat.
“I actually think that’s exactly what’s going to happen in this next round of redistribution,” said Peralta. “If there is a tactic that presents itself, it will not be to pack and crack. It will be to divide and reign better. The assumption is that Latinos and African Americans will agree based on their circumstances and socio-economic status. But that doesn’t necessarily happen. And other sides might lead it, to drive the ditch. “
The new headquarters of the 14th house of the United States in North Carolina
Peralta focused on state legislative races by talking about the potential of high density Latino districts in urban areas like Durham or Charlotte. At the level of Congress, that is another question.
While the Latin American population is booming, it is still almost certainly still too small and extensive for lawmakers to draw a congressional district with predominantly Hispanic residents. The state legislature districts are relatively small because there are more seats, but the congressional districts will each have over 700,000 people.
At the same time, North Carolina is securing an additional seat in the United States House of Representatives this year, increasing from 13 to 14 seats due to the state’s rapid growth from 2010 to 2020.
This means that North Carolina will have an additional vote in Congress and more influence in the presidential elections, thanks to the Electoral College.
So if the state is going to get a new 14th seat largely because of the booming Hispanic population, could at least one of the 14 districts reflect that? A group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a Democrat who served under then-President Barack Obama, says it’s something lawmakers should consider.
And they also have an idea of where it might go.
Lekha Shupek, North Carolina director for a branch of Holder’s Democratic National Cutting Committee, highlighted an area on the outskirts of the Triangle, to the south and west, with a combination of bedroom suburbs and more rural farming and manufacturing communities.
“Placing the new 14th Congressional District in the Research Triangle area, including Southern Wake, Lee, Harnett, Chatham and Alamance counties, could potentially create a competitive district and greater partisan balance in the congressional delegation and bring together these Latin / Hispanic communities, ”Shupek wrote in an email.
Asked whether lawmakers would take the Latino population of districts into account when developing new maps, a spokesperson for Senate Leader Phil Berger, Pat Ryan, said “the legislature will draw fair maps and legal “.
For more information on North Carolina government and politics, listen to The News & Observer and NC Insider’s Under the Dome political podcast. You can find it on link.chtbl.com/underthedomenc or wherever you get your podcasts.
This story was originally published 6 October 2021 6:00 a.m.