NASHVILLE, TN – The latest census data confirms the U.S. population reached 331.4 million in 2020. The Hispanic population grew 23% from 2010-2020, reaching 62.1 million and Latinos now make up 19% of the U.S. population. The number of Black, single-race non-Hispanic Americans reached 40 million, or 12% of the population.

The White non-Hispanic population fell from 196.8 million in 2010 to 191.7 million in 2020, according to the PEW Research Center. The White percentage of the total population in 1980 was 80%. In 2020, it was 58%, its lowest share ever. The percentage of African Americans has remained at 12% since 1980.

More Americans than ever say they are multiracial with 33.8 million Americans identifying themselves as being of more than one race in 2020, up from about 9 million in 2010. About half of multiracial Americans are Hispanic and most multiracial Americans say they are White with another race. The 2020 Census form was changed a bit, the online form recorded more information than the paper form, and, the Trump years saw a vigorous national debate around ethnicity and national origin. There was an increase in reporting mixed race data, not necessarily 24 million more mixed race Americans than in 2010.

“The nation’s Asian and nation’s Hispanic populations have together since 2010 accounted for about three quarters of the nation’s population growth, half lone came from the Hispanic population,” said Mark Hugo Lopez. He is PEW’sdirector of race and ethnicity research.

Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Hispanic Research, Pew Research Center

Urban counties grew between 2010 and 2020 while rural counties saw declines. These demographic changes have focused attention on redistricting which determines how likely voters will get to choose political candidates that look like them and share their views.

“American democracy is built on the principle that all people receive equal representation in the US House of Representatives, in their states’ legislatures, and in local government,” said Yurij Rudensky, an attorney with the Brennan Center.

Every ten years when a new census comes out, district boundaries are redrawn.

“Unfortunately, in most states redistricting is a very political partisan process. When one political party is in control, it can be used in a way to disadvantage political opposition.

Gerrymandering in is the common term for these redistributing abuses when politicians ignore the public interest and changes in the population, to draw districts that are designed to manufacture political outcomes without regard to how communities are treated.,” he said.

Partisan gerrymandering is when the majority party seeks to minimize the power of the other party. Racial gerrymandering is when the influence of votes of color is minimized.

The goal of gerrymandering is to lock in an electoral advantage for a party, or a set of political interests, or current politicians so they can’t be voted out. It takes meaningful choice away from voters. Voters don’t elect their representatives; the representatives pick their voters.

“In many states these two abuses go hand in hand,” Rudensky said.

He said political operatives predict how each household tends to vote and how likely they are to turn out to vote. That information is used to draw district lines that produce the same election results year after year.

The likelihood of a gerrymander is high when one party controls state government, when the state is divided politically, and if the demographics of the state are changing. The Brennan Center predicts gerrymandering is going to draw unfair boundaries in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas.

A few states like California, Colorado, Michigan, and Arizona have independent redistricting commissions. The majority of states do not and lines are drawn by the state legislatures. It is a process that takes place largely in the dark.

Yurij Rudensky, Redistricting Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice. NYU Law School
PHOTO Courtesy of Brennan Center for Justice

Tennessee’s legislature draws district lines and according to the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge, there will likely be little or no input from the public during the process this time around. The league noted in a press releases: ”not sufficient time in process to hold public hearings, obtain feedback on initial proposed maps, incorporate changes; and develop final maps”.

Another way besides independent commissions to safeguard fairness is to have legal tools that advocates can use in courts to police redistricting. But there are very few of those. The Voting Rights Act has been weakened by the US Supreme Court and federal courts can’t hear cases against state partisan gerrymandering unless Congress acts first.

A number of bills have been introduced in the 117th Congress to set new ground rules about redistricting and a lot more to reform American politics. The most well-known are the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 and HR1, the For the People Act of 2021.

“Those two bills would create those tools and make sure all communities receive fair and effective representation,” he said.

The fate of those bills lies in Washington. They are part of President Biden’s $ $3.5 trillion budget proposal, including the American Families Plan, the American Jobs Act, and a social agenda the likes of which have not been seen since the New Deal.

The Democrats expect to pass Biden’s $3.5 trillion plan without any Republican support. Ten conservative Democrats held up the House vote on Tuesday because they wanted to pass the bi-partisan infrastructure bill first. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said for months she wants both packages voted on at the same time.

A compromise was reached late Tuesday. The infrastructure bill will be taken up by September 27 if it hasn’t been voted on before then. Pelosi told House Democrats to start drafting the legislation for Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan and have it ready by the end of September.

“Congress has an urgent imperative to restore the voting rights act,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, an official of the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Jesselyn McCurdy, Interim Executive Vice President for Government Affairs, The Leadership Conference Education Fund

The House approved the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) Tuesday along party lines, 219-212. Now it faces a crucial debate in the Senate. Unless ten Republicans vote for it, it won’t pass.

Both H.R. 4 and the For the People Act (H.R.1) could pass if all 50 Democratic senators voted to end the filibuster rule. If it is not killed, the two voting rights bills would need a 60-vote majority. Senator Joe Manchin (W.VA.) and Senator Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are opposed to ending the filibuster.