How will Hispanic growth affect redistricting?

To avoid a lawsuit, the redistricting committee will need to take care how the new districts divide minority populations.

Utah’s Hispanic population continued to grow during the 2000s. Statewide, the Hispanic population grew by 78% (from 201,559 to 358,340) in the 2000s, bringing it to 13% of Utah’s total population. Although 13% is still a small minority, this is significant growth from 9% in 2000 and 5% in 1990.

Which counties have seen the most Hispanic growth?

Hispanic growth has varied from county to county, however. Every county (except Daggett) saw growth in its Hispanic population during the 2000s. As a percent of the total population, Hispanic populations have increased by anywhere from slightly less than a percentage point (in San Juan County) to almost 8.5 percentage points (in Wasatch County) since 2000.

Salt Lake County’s Hispanic population grew by 68% (from 106,787 to 176,015) in the 2000s. Of 131,268 new residents in Salt Lake County since 2000, 69,288 are Hispanic, accounting for almost 53% of the county’s overall growth. In Utah County, Hispanics accounted for 20% of the overall growth. Statewide, Hispanics accounted for 51% of overall population growth.

When do racial/ethnic issues affect redistricting?

So how is this relevant to the redistricting process here in Utah? It might not be. Historically, racial and ethnic issues have influenced redistricting mostly in the South. There, courts have occasionally struck down redistricting plans that dilute minority voters.

You can’t usually run into this problem unless you draw a district map that spreads a concentrated minority population over several districts. If there were a large population of blacks in an area, for example, but the district lines were drawn in a way that spread them over several districts rather than allowing them to be a natural majority in a single compact district, then the courts would be likely to strike that down. This has occurred several times in southern states since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which set up these rules.

Will Hispanic growth affect Utah redistricting?

Utah has never had a concentrated enough minority population to need to worry much about this part of the Voting Rights Act. In most of the state, that continues to be the case. But in light of the 2010 Census data, that may be changing.

The trickiest area may be Salt Lake County, the most populous county and also home to the largest Hispanic population. In fact, Hispanic growth has driven most of the overall growth in Salt Lake City and in a few surrounding cities (South Salt Lake, Taylorsville, and West Valley City). Each has a large Hispanic minority, ranging from 19% to 33% of their total populations.

As it happens, these are the same cities that tend to vote Democratic. If legislative Republicans attempt a partisan gerrymander, then we can expect them to try dividing up the concentrated Democratic populations from these areas across several districts, so that neighboring Republican-leaning districts each absorb a portion of the Democratic voters. But if legislative Republicans try that, they may unintentionally spread a concentrated Hispanic population into several white-majority districts. If that happens, the map would be vulnerable to a lawsuit based on the Voting Rights Act.

To avoid a lawsuit, the redistricting committee will need to take care how the new districts divide minority populations. If the new districts dilute minority voters’ political influence by spreading out a concentrated population of Hispanics over several districts, then the map may wind up in court.

This is part of a series of posts about redistricting in Utah. For an overview, read the introductory post. My talented research assistant, Robert Richards, contributed heavily to this series.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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