Popping the CLUTCH Blog

POP THE CLUTCH, START A VOTING MACHINE

English: This is a chart illustrating voter tu...
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Political Geography May Impact Presidential Race

By Kirk Clay

Not long ago, I was in Atlanta to speak on civil rights strategies for redistricting. While there, I visited friends who work in the hip-hop community.  We began to talk about the implications that the dramatic population shifts will have on voting patterns in 2012.  The Census 2010 data confirmed that it is possible for this President to get the 270 electoral votes for his re-election.  With adequate resources and a cooperative spirit, the African American/Latino political movement has the potential to change the historic voting patterns in states like Arizona and Georgia. 

Some of my friends were not convinced.  They remembered what happened during this past year when targeted messages and partisan mobilization campaigns by conservatives “drowned out” our voice. In the process, we damaged our AAA credit rating.  And we lost traction during a time of recovery.  My friends felt that our movement might not be able to stand up to this group of extreme obstructionist.

I don’t believe all is loss.  First, this is an election year. There is clear evidence that increased civic participation by communities of color can offset any conceivable lag in progressive voter turnout.  For example, according to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the African American share of the total vote in Illinois increased from 10 percent in 2006 to 19 percent in 2010.  Due to this strong turnout, a candidate who embraced progressive views became governor with only one-third of the white vote.

The same was true for Latinos in Colorado, and Nevada. In Nevada where Latinos represent 16% of the vote share, 69% voted for the progressive Senate candidate. This was an increase of 4% over the 2006 turnout. In Colorado, Latinos were an impressive 12% of the vote share and pushed the progressive candidate over the top.

I believe that with proper resources and political momentum, people of color can impact voter turnout rates. If we close the gaps between the populations that are eligible and likely voters, we will have a better chance of regaining our voice and enacting progressive policies. For example a progressive candidate could win Georgia with just 41% of the White vote and Arizona with just 37%.

We finished our conversation by reaching the conclusion that African Americans and Latinos are bonded and there are similarities in terms of history and culture.  We have and can continue to come together to develop transformational relationships that dramatically impact politics, culture, and economics. We agreed that by embracing our commonality and addressing our differences we can seize the moment to build our bridge of promise.

We must always remember that the local political machines have never just been about Whites and African Americans. Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans have always existed and participated. Their expanding share of the electorate shouldn’t create anxiety in political circles; rather it should reinforce America’s steadfastness for a new all-inclusive brand of politics. That’s popping the clutch.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC

 

GOVERNMENT FOR ALL, NOT JUST A FEW:

Portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Redistricting Strategies Impact Local and National Elections

By Kirk Clay and Madura Wijewardena

 State houses, city councils and many other institutions across America are now engaged in an endeavor that has occurred every decade since the nation’s founding — they will decide how electoral boundaries will be drawn based on where people live. These decisions will have a major impact on who is elected to public office.

This practice originates from the radical but simple plan set out in the U.S. Constitution which states that America will count every person every decade and use the results of that count to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. At that time, using a population count to determine representation was an unusual proposition because, according to Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, population counts had been used before to levy taxes or property or to pressure people for military service and not to ensure that the government had the consent of the governed.

This radical but simple plan originally had profound injustice embedded in it by stipulating that slaves held in bondage be counted as three-fifths of a person. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14th amendment, allowing former slaves to be counted as full-individuals, one result of the costly, bloody struggle of the Civil War.

Immediately following the Civil War, during Reconstruction, over 600 African Americans occupied various elected offices across the nation. With the end of that era  came an almost century-long period of despair, which began when African Americans were habitually disenfranchised through Jim Crow practices, lynching, segregation, institutionalized racism, and incarceration discrepancies, to name a few.  By 1965, only 300 African Americans occupied elected offices.

The enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 offered some hope of government with the consent of all those who are governed and not just a few, requiring states to draw legislative boundaries that would maximize minority voter empowerment. Like the 14th amendment, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was not an end in itself but a mere foothold in the unending struggle for justice.

As we approach that moment when electoral boundaries are redrawn, opportunities for regression are immense; and this moment requires renewed and continued vigilance.

With President Barack Obama, an African American, holding the highest office in the nation and many African Americans in elected offices across the nation, one may ask have the times not changed?

 Times have changed six-fold. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1970 there were about 1,500 African American elected officials.  In 2000 the number of African Americans in elected offices had reached about 9,000. Improvements must not be confused with underrepresentation.    Based on the number of elected officials reported by the Census Bureau in 1992 – 513,200 – in 2000 African American elected officials were 2% of all elected officials. African Americans were 12.3 % of the population.

A civil rights redistricting strategy for 2011 must maximize African American voter empowerment by defending past improvements and by agitating to move the nation closer to the ideal of equal representation. 

To achieve this, civil rights communities must focus on three things: 1) more local level action to set up long-term pathways; 2) the strategic use of census data to push for change; and 3) the strategic use of census data to reject aggressively the regression of the original mandates of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Civil rights communities must remember that redistricting is not just for apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives it also impacts local-level elected offices. Significant shifts in the U.S. population will have an impact on African Americans’ role in the next presidential race. Eighteen states have gained or lost seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Electoral College votes that a candidate for president gets when he/she wins one of those states also will be increased or reduced by the numbers of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives that are gained or lost.

In order to maximize minority voter empowerment civil rights communities must take action at this critical juncture to make sure the intent of the Voting rights Act of 1965 is preserved.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC. Madura Wijewardena is Director of Research & Policy at the National Urban League Policy Institute