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Q&A: How the Census Impacts Voting Rights

The United States Census Bureau released demographic-level results from last year’s national survey on Thursday, August 12, 2021. These results included district-level information on population size and demographics for counties, towns, and cities. Since then, conversations about voting rights, redistricting, and gerrymandering have increased - here is what you need to know about how the census impacts voting rights:

1. What does the Census have to do with voting?

States draw information from the Census to determine how eligible voters are distributed across the state, as well as where district lines will be drawn. The drawing of these lines is known as redistricting, which is the process of drawing electoral district boundaries.

2. Why does this matter?

While demographic-level data from the Census is meant to serve as a tool for redrawing district lines “fairly,” politicians often use redistricting as an opportunity to disenfranchise voters through a process called gerrymandering.

3. What is gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is the act of political parties manipulating electoral map boundaries to make it more likely that their party will win in future elections. This unfair political advantage could easily sway how votes are counted and could determine the outcome of important laws.

“Many Republicans and Democrats also will be trying to ensure the new lines divide and combine voters in ways that make it more likely for their party’s candidates to win future elections, a process called gerrymandering. The parties’ successes in that effort could determine whether taxes and spending grow, climate-change polices are approved or access to abortion is expanded or curtailed.” - AP News

4. How does gerrymandering impact minority communities?

When district lines are redrawn, they are often done so in a way that decreases the power of voters in minority communities. There are two common tactics used - “cracking” and “packing”. “Cracking” is commonly done in cities and aims to split a minority community into several different districts to dilute its impact. “Packing” is more commonly seen in rural areas and attempts to combine a high number of minority voters into one district with the intent of watering down their overall impact on the state.

5. How is this legal?

Gerrymandering with the intent of diluting the power of minority votes is illegal, however, these efforts are more easily disguised as a partisan one due to a recent Supreme Court ruling. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that gerrymandering for partisan purposes was “beyond the reach of federal courts,” which means these claims must be handled at the state level.

6. How could this impact the 2022 elections specifically?

Republicans could take control of the U.S. House during the 2022 elections by gaining only 5 seats, which means that Congress is hanging in the balance. Since the Republican party largely dominates state legislatures, they will have control over much more of the redistricting process than Democrats. Voting rights advocates have already begun filing lawsuits with the intent of stopping racial gerrymandering from happening, however, these legal challenges are unlikely to be resolved in time to have a positive impact on the 2022 elections.

Get to the point: The U.S. Census Bureau recently released their demographic-level results from the 2020 Census. These results will be used by political parties to redraw district boundaries in a process called redistricting. Politicians often use redistricting as an opportunity to partake in racial gerrymandering, in which they attempt to stifle the voices of minority communities by diluting the power of their votes. While gerrymandering to water down the impact of minority voters is illegal, it is often purposely disguised as a partisan one. While voting and civil rights advocates have already begun filing lawsuits with the intent of stopping racial gerrymandering from happening, it is unlikely these challenges will be resolved in time for the 2022 elections which will determine control of the U.S. House.


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