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Addressing the Rock

ยป Chron: Planting seeds: Houston's redistricting plan will require time to grow Hispanic representation. (Editorial)

At first glance, the draft redistricting plan for Houston City Council formulated by Mayor Annise Parker's administration seemingly contradicts its purpose. Although the creation of two new district seats results from a voting-rights suit settlement more than three decades ago to expand Hispanic representation as the city's population grew, the proposed new Districts J and K would almost certainly elect Anglo and African-American representatives in November.

As a result, a coalition of Houston Latino groups is demanding changes that would guarantee at least one more Hispanic-dominated district to send a representative to serve on council with Ed Gonzalez of District H and James Rodriguez of District I. They cite fresh census statistics showing that an increase in the number of Latinos accounts for most of the city's population growth over the last decade.

It's not that simple, however. Mayor Parker summarizes the demographic conundrum this way: "The problem is 44 percent of our population is Latino but 16 percent of the vote is Latino." According to the mayor, the proposed map doubles the number of districts with Hispanic voting-age majorities, but "the rock we run aground on is citizenship."

The biggest problem with this analysis - and the city's redistricting approach - is that it ignores the Census Bureau's American Community Survey data on Citizenship Voting Age Population. By ignoring it (it was called "murky" during the Wednesday council hearing on the proposed redistricting plan), the city isn't properly accounting for the very problem they note.

As noted yesterday, the Texas Legislative Council's David Hanna is on record suggesting the data be used. On page 18 of the presentation made to the NCSL last year, he offered two methods for dealing with the different geographic definitions used in both the 2010 Census and the earlier ACS data collection:

- count only those block groups wholly within a district
- assume uniformity of split block groups and assign a ratio of the geography covered within the district.

If I can do this as a one-man show, it's not clear to me why anyone else can't. Had this information been used, it would be more readily apparent that a map can be produced with at least three districts that are over 65% Hispanic, with two districts over 50% CVAP and one within reach this decade. By not using it, the decisions for where you look for the opportunity get ... well ... murky. And if the best result is two districts where there are no voters to be found (as has been suggested), then I'd suggest that not enough has been done to locate a true opportunity. If you don't believe me, then feel free to check the side-by-side view of Harris County in any combination of Total Population, Voting Age Population, or CVAP at either a Census Tract or Block Group level.

Spanish surname registered voters are a guide, but they are a far more conservative baseline for measurement. Furthermore, since you're not accounting for voter-eligible, non-registered citizens, the problem of "Hispanics not voting" is etched in stone and preserved for at least a decade. I don't have a quarrel with using as many datapoints as possible, but it was a mistake to not use CVAP at all.

On a strict CVAP count, Houston Hispanics would account for 2.56 seats on council, whereas the full population would warrant 4.7. Locating an opportunity to build on that .56 opportunity in order to more fully reflect the city's population is no doubt a challenge. I don't pretend to offer my suggested map as a conclusive solution that is guaranteed to elect an Hispanic. But I also know of no Hispanic leader afraid of the challenge to win in that environment.

Build it ... and let's see who gets elected.

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