Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Univision about the political power of the growing Latino electorate. Newly released data from the 2020 Census confirmed that the non-Hispanic white population shrunk the most over the last decade in the United States while the populations identifying as Hispanic, Latino or multiracial grew. According to Diaz, the census data is integral to political voice and ensuring fair redistricting. “When we redraw the lines, we should see Latino political voice and political power protected under the Voting Rights Act and their ability to elect their candidate of choice,” Diaz said. While the census’ undercount of some communities is still unclear, Diaz predicted that the United States will continue to see population growth among Asian Americans and Latinos in the next few decades.
Founding Director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Sonja Diaz was featured in an NBC News article discussing the importance of accurate representation through redistricting. The Census Bureau’s release of data from the 2020 Census illustrated the growth of the Latino electorate over the past 10 years and “we want to ensure, through data and advocacy, that Latino political power does not decrease in the 2021 redistricting cycle,” Diaz said. The census data is a valuable tool for Latinos advocating for redistricting that reflects changing demographics. “It’s not a simple math problem. There’s politics involved and every state has a different process for how lines are drawn, whether it is the legislature or independent redistricting commissions,” she explained. “Ultimately, this country has had a storied history of vote dilution against communities of color, including Latinos and especially African Americans.”
Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, has been appointed to the commission that will redraw Los Angeles City Council district boundaries to ensure that constituents are fairly represented. “As a fourth-generation Eastsider, I am humbled to serve the city as we seek to uphold diverse communities’ fundamental right to elect their candidates of choice,” said Diaz, a civil rights attorney with extensive experience in voter protection efforts. “I’ve focused my career on advancing equitable policy solutions, and redistricting is a critical component to ensuring front-line communities have leaders that will fight to keep them safe, housed and visible in the new decade.” As part of the redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census is completed, commissioners closely analyze demographic data and offer members of the public opportunities to weigh in. Their proposal for a new electoral map for Los Angeles must be submitted to the City Council by June 2021. Diaz was appointed to the commission by Councilman Kevin de León. “Sonja has long been an advocate for equity in Los Angeles, using her voice to protect the civil rights of countless Angelenos,” de León said. “As we redraw the invisible lines that unite our diverse districts into a cohesive city, Sonja’s leadership and deep knowledge of the Voting Rights Act will be critical to ensuring more equal and reflective representation … for the entire city of L.A.”
Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with Spectrum News’ Inside the Issues about the importance of Latino representation on the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. The 14-member commission is tasked with redrawing district lines for state and federal offices based on 2020 Census data. Diaz said that California’s distinctive geographic contours mean that Latinos in rural or urban communities may have different political priorities. “Making sure that you have voices that know the needs of Fresno or the Imperial Valley is really important when you’re drawing political lines around what interests communities and who they want to elect to represent them,” she said. Diaz also commented on the state’s arduous process for selecting citizens to sit on the commission, which is “not centered to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of diverse Californians.” She concluded, “Sometimes when people want to make government better, they make it harder for communities of color.”
Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavksy spoke with KPCC’s Airtalk about the process of redistricting in relation to recent corruption charges against suspended City Council member Jose Huizar. Every 10 years, district lines are redrawn to reflect changes in population based on the census, and some have noted that the shuffling of districts gave Huizar a large swath of Los Angeles’ asset-rich downtown. “There’s nothing uglier or more difficult than the redistricting process every 10 years,” said Yaroslavsky, who described the political and sentimental factors at play. Most elected officials “want to keep as much of their district as they can” and some have close ties to the neighborhoods and constituents they may have represented for a decade or more. When politicians redistrict for themselves, self-interest can play a role, but Yaroslavsky also noted that there are “unintended consequences of so-called independent commissions.” He concluded, “There is no perfect system for redistricting.”
Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, wrote a commentary for CalMatters about the lack of Latino representation on the California redistricting commission candidate list. The commission is in charge of redrawing state and federal political boundaries, which is especially critical as California faces the potential loss of a congressional seat after the 2020 Census count is complete. Diaz pointed out that, while Latinos are California’s largest ethnic group at 40% of the population, they represent only 17% of the candidate pool for the redistricting commission. She explained that the lack of geographical representation means that Latinos are being left out of the redistricting process. “The pandemic is not an excuse to ignore the key principle of equal participation,” Diaz argued. “In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect opportunity to commit to ensuring that Latinos and other voters of color have equal access to the democratic process.”
By Les Dunseith
The national response rate to the U.S. Census is lagging well behind where it was at a similar point a decade ago, according to an analysis spearheaded by Paul Ong, a research professor and director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.
Ong said shutdown orders related to the novel coronavirus pandemic seem to be a factor in suppressing the response rate, which is now at least 11 percentage points lower than it was for the 2010 census through late April.
The UCLA researchers noted that the self-response phase of the current census began March 12, which happened to coincide with mandated restrictions on gatherings and physical movements imposed in the state of Washington by Gov. Jay Inslee — some of the earliest such rules in the nation. His order also closed all schools in the three counties most affected by the coronavirus at the time.
Within a week, even more extreme physical distancing measures were in effect in states such as Washington, California and New York — and soon throughout the nation — as public officials ordered businesses to close and citizens to remain at home in an attempt to slow the advance of COVID-19.
“April 1 was designated as Census Day in an effort to highlight the importance of a complete and accurate count of American citizens,” said Ong, who has served as an adviser to the U.S. Census Bureau as part of his scholarly activities at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “But that designation proved to be ceremonial at best, drawing little media notice or public attention with the vast majority of Americans hunkered down at home as a result of the shelter-in-place strategy.”
Ong said his findings are worrisome and seemingly at odds with the positive message coming from the Census Bureau. A bureau email blast sent in late April, for example, declared “an important milestone in the 2020 Census. More than half of all the households in the country have responded — that’s 77,500,000 households so far!”
Ong said crossing the halfway mark in the census count is less impressive when one looks below the surface. He noted, for example, that on April 18, the New York Times reported that the COVID-19 crisis had seriously hampered the response to the census, causing the Census Bureau to adjust its timeline and prolong the collection process to counter any shortfalls. The agency had earlier extended deadlines to complete its operations.
“The adjustments are framed and justified as necessary to protect the health of census workers and the public, which is obviously valid and prudent,” Ong said. “But nothing was mentioned about the need to extend census operations because of any possible lack of progress.”
The 2020 census is the first to allow people to respond online, by phone or by mail, while the 2010 census was limited to mail responses only.
In its analysis, the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge compared the overall response rate so far to the mail-in rate at the same point for the 2010 census. The researchers looked at both the 2010 mail-response rate — the total number of filled-in and returned forms divided by the total number of addresses in the government’s master address file — and the mail-return rate, the number of returned forms divided only by the number deliverable and non-vacant addresses.
When the three measures are plotted on a graph, it is apparent that a slowdown in 2020 census responses coincides with the timing of the COVID-19 crisis. By March 22, the 2020 rate had slipped below the rate of return for both of the 2010 measures and has continued to lag since then. Since April 24, the date of the email blast from the Census Bureau, the 2020 response rate has never gotten closer than 11 percentage points below both of the 2010 measures, the UCLA analysis shows.
The researchers note that because the 2010 mail-return rate has a smaller denominator, it has a higher value than the 2010 mail-response rate. According to the Census Bureau, the 2010 mail-response is more compatible with how the 2020 response rate is being calculated.
Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, other factors may be hindering 2020 responses, Ong said. Those barriers may include a lack of access to the internet, which is the primary mode of data collection for the 2020 census; a nationwide increase in vacant and seasonal housing; and the growth of the historically harder-to-reach Hispanic population.
The decennial census is required so that congressional seats can be reapportioned to account for geographic shifts in the population. The official count is also used for redrawing electoral district boundaries for congressional, state legislative and local jurisdictions. Equally important, the numbers are used in allocating public funds and helping to provide a clearer picture of the nation’s population and housing stock.
Unless steps are taken immediately to boost response rates, Ong is worried that the 2020 census is experiencing “a real and present danger of having one of the most incomplete census enumerations in history.”
Based on historical precedent, the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge analysis predicts that an undercount would disproportionately affect low-income residents, people of color and immigrants.
“The Census Bureau is not to be blamed for the dire circumstances that have upended everyone’s life,” Ong said. “What is required now, however, is mobilizing community organizations and groups to work collaboratively with public agencies to minimize the damage. We need to focus scarce resources to do everything in our power to ensure inclusion in the census of society’s most marginalized people and neighborhoods.”
Questions about the study may be directed to Paul Ong at email@example.com
To inquire about the proprietary data used to build the chart, contact Les Dunseith at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org
Join voting rights practitioners, expert witnesses and legal scholars from around the country for sessions and workshops on procedural pathways to protecting the right to vote during the 21st century.
Keynote speakers include:
- California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has strengthened voting rights by increasing voter registration and overseeing the transition from the traditional voting model to vote centers through the Voter’s Choice Act.
- Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who has worked to pass automatic voter registration; during her tenure, there has been a 64% increase in general election turnout among voters 18 to 20.
- Texas Congressman Marc Veasey, who has represented his state’s 33rd district since 2012 and founded the first Congressional Voting Rights Caucus.
December 8 sign up link: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/
December 9 sign up link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/
This event is hosted by the UCLA Voting Rights Project, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.