Community Voices: Redistricting should protect minority voting rights

Kevin C. Peterson | 9/13/2011, 11:16 p.m.

Wholly aware of the enormous implications of the redistricting process, a coalition of organizations and advocates have been working assiduously over that last year for redistricting justice. Members of the coalition have attended each of the Legislature’s statewide redistricting hearings. Redistricting advocate organizations have held more than three dozen community and strategy meetings in Boston and across the state.

The work of the coalitions and advocates have generated practical redistricting solutions, in terms of proffering new statewide and congressional maps. In July, the New Democracy Coalition and the Mass Black Empowerment Coalition presented a newly revamped statewide map to the Joint Committee for Redistricting that would effectively bring an end to race-based gerrymandering in the state.

If the Joint Committee on Redistricting simply implemented these maps, the number of black and Latino representatives would increase by 100 percent from 10 to 20 members by calling for the creation of new state representative seats in Springfield, Chelsea, Brockton and Randolph and new state Senate seats in Boston, Lawrence and Springfield.

Most importantly, it is now possible to create a new majority-minority,  incumbent-free congressional district that will allow for the likelihood of electing the first person of color to the U.S. House of Representatives; put an end to a particularly pernicious form of “cracking” in Boston’s black community and unify a critical “community of interest” which now has its political influence diluted between two Congressional districts.

Moreover, creating a new congressional district that extends south of Boston to Brockton will unite in a common district the influence of hundreds of thousands of protected class minorities.

In order to expand the democratic foundations of the Commonwealth, districts must now be drawn in a clear, transparent fashion. And careful attention must be given to minority voters to reverse historic discrimination, and provide electoral representation that has too long been denied. This can only be achieved by ensuring uncontested opportunities for political expression among historically disenfranchised groups such as blacks, Latinos and Asians.

Put differently, the Commonwealth must employ a moral logic of redistricting that seeks to achieve the broadest range of civic opportunities in the state; it must commit to an effort of civic realignment that takes seriously the goal of individual freedom and equality, especially for groups that have been the most adversely impacted during past redistricting cycles.  

Toward this end we respectfully ask Gov. Patrick to veto any redistricting legislation that does not reflect political equity for minority groups in the Commonwealth; employ the capacity of your legal team to articulate to the state Legislature all the reasons and facts that compel the Commonwealth to follow federal law and judicial admonishment as it pertains to the protected voting classes in Massachusetts; and  publicly convey how meaningful it is to finally bring an end to race-based gerrymandering and the deleterious effects such practices has had on historically disenfranchised groups.

There is a federal case to be made in support of fair redistricting for minorities in Massachusetts. In a 2004 ruling on the matter of The Black Political Task Force v. Commonwealth, the federal courts agreed that the full expression of the political influence of black voters were curtailed in the redistricting process in several of Boston’s black communities.