A growing population
Every ten years , based on changes in the Census, local and state governments are required to redraw election districts to reflect changes in the population and ethnic makeup of a community. Thanks to the struggle of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandates that this process protect the rights of people of color to have fair representation in elections.
This month Milwaukee’s Common Council passed a new map of Milwaukee that redraws the city’s political lines to reflect the significant growth of the Latino community – an increase of 44% in the last 10 years . The new map will create two supermajority Latino districts: aldermanic district 8, currently represented by Alderman Donovan, and aldermanic district 12, represented by Alderman Witkowiak.
Prior to this vote, Alderman Donovan shamelessly attempted to pass a map that voting rights experts and redistricting experts clearly said would have violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This redistricting process will now occur at the school board and state level.
The Latino community has grown significantly not just in the city of Milwaukee, but statewide, with 74% growth in the past decade, including significant growth in rural districts. The 2010 count showed there were 336,056 Latinos in the state, accounting for 5.9 percent of Wisconsin’s total population. The state’s largest county, Milwaukee County, had the largest total number of Latinos with 126,039, followed by Dane County with 28,925.
This trend is also reflected at the national level.
The 2010 Census counted 50.5 million Latinos in the United States, making up 16.3% of the nation’s total population. Overall, growth in the Latino population accounted for most of the nation’s growth–56%–from 2000 to 2010.
A significant voting bloc
This growth will translate into a more powerful voting bloc in national politics and in Wisconsin, where the margin between the two dominant political parties is small.
Since the 2006 elections, Latino voters have shifted towards the Democratic Party in large majorities, in response to the anti-immigrant platform of the Republican Party and Republican led legislation such as Wisconsin Congressman Sensenbrenner’s HR4437 or state laws such Arizona’s SB1070 that have alienated Latino voters from the Republican Party.
Nationally, in 2006 and 2008, Latinos were a key constituency in delivering a Democratic President, and a Democratic majority in the US Senate and House of Representatives. In 2010, despite the failure of the Obama Administration to deliver on his promise of immigration reform, it was Latino voters in key electoral states, such as Colorado, Nevada and California, that sustained a Democratic majority in the Senate. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that Democrats picked up the Latino vote by 64-34 in the 2010 elections.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center and latest Census data, Latino voters are nearly three times larger in states that gained congressional seats and Electoral College votes in the 2010 reapportionment than they are in states that lost seats. With these changes, Latinos likely will play an even larger role in national politics in the coming decade.
Elections in 2012: don’t take us for granted
Yet, it would be foolish to believe that Latinos will vote for President Obama in 2012, if he does not stop his enforcement only policies on immigration that alienated Latino voters from the Republican Party in the first place.
On the other hand, in state politics, Governor Walker and the Republican majority have passed anti-immigrant, anti-worker laws, including the repeal of in-state tuition rights for immigrant youth, policies that deny legal immigrant access to health care, and dramatic cuts to public education, while providing millions of tax breaks to large corporations and the wealthiest.
Politicians from both parties should not take the Latino vote for granted. Latinos represent a largely working class base that values education and is in strong solidarity with undocumented immigrants who have come to the US pursuing the American Dream, as previous generations of immigrants who came to the US.
Voters who want to see change happen, cannot just expect change to be delivered from the ballot box.
We must continue to build an organized community that advocates for its rights in the workplace, in schools, and in every aspect of our lives, and that forms important alliances in order to create a strong mass movement to achieve the economic and social justice we seek.
This post is also available in: Spanish