Although a new redistricting plan for the state House and Senate was signed into law two weeks ago, the public remains in the dark as to whether the lines that were drawn ensure fair representation for racial minorities. That is the gist of a detailed four-page letter sent by six community organizations to the state’s redistricting consultant, Kimball Brace, seeking an explanation for his failure to use or release any racial bloc voting analysis despite being required to do so under his contract with the state.
The letter – signed by representatives of Common Cause RI, the RI ACLU, the Urban League of RI, NAACP Providence Branch, ULMAC, and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women RI Chapter – notes that the potential consequences of the failure to use the missing data “are significant: despite an increase in the minority population since the last census, both the House and Senate, under the newly-approved plan, have the same number of majority-minority districts as they did ten years ago. Further, the analysis we have been able to perform from the limited racial data that has been made available raises numerous questions as to the true viability of some of these districts, questions that cannot be answered without the data that has never been released.”
A racial voting bloc analysis shows whether different racial minorities, such as African-American and Latino voters, generally vote in support of the same candidates. If not, then the fact that the two groups make up a majority in any legislative district may only provide an illusion that the district has been drawn to allow for the fair representation and election of minority candidates. In only six House and two Senate districts does a single minority group represent more than 50 percent of the population – and in two House districts it is the white population that holds a plurality.
The state’s RFP specifically called for “studies of voting behavior (e.g. racial bloc voting),” and Brace’s proposal for services included “Racial bloc voting analysis for plan modeling and litigation support, if necessary, to determine if voting in Rhode Island is polarized by race.” Racial bloc voting analysis was a key component of the successful lawsuit filed against last decade’s Senate redistricting plan.
Although the state Redistricting Commission emphasized the many public hearings it held around the state to receive public input about the plans, the letter noted “that input largely remains meaningless if the data necessary to provide an informed analysis is kept unavailable from the public. That is precisely the situation our groups were faced with.” At redistricting meetings, Brace never explained why the racial bloc data, which according to his proposal to the state was expected by August 2011, was never made available. However, the absence of this data was regularly mentioned by community groups at redistricting meetings throughout the month of December.
The letter to Brace concludes: “In sum, the RFP and contract were premised on the availability and use of racial bloc voting data to draw district lines and ensure proper representation of racial minorities in the state in the drawing of those lines; the limited data available suggests that proper representation has not been ensured; and no explanation has been provided for this extraordinary lapse. Although, regrettably, it is too late to make use of this data to draw the district lines to better protect minority voters, we believe it is incumbent upon you to make that data available for review in accordance with the contract and to explain why it was not done in the timeframe expected.”
Brace has also been criticized by state Republican legislators for failing to provide information about other aspects of the redistricting process.