Keep an eye on Lehigh | Opinion
Contrary to what you may have heard, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is still a powerful law to be reckoned with.
Given the focus on the VRA in a recent public hearing held by the Pennsylvania Legislative Redistricting Commission, the commission considers it one of its most important considerations in achieving its goal of reconfiguring the legislative districts of the ‘State.
The Voting Rights Act prohibits the denial or restriction of the right to vote on the basis of race, color or language. It extends from the right to individual voting to redistribution plans which hinder the possibility for a minority group to elect a candidate of its choice.
Pennsylvania’s population grew 2.4% between 2010 and 2020. That wasn’t enough to prevent the state from losing a seat in the Congressional House of Representatives. But within that 2.4% increase, Hispanic and Latino populations made up 45.8%. Pennsylvania now has 1.05 million Hispanic and Latino residents, up from 720,000 in 2010.
(In case you didn’t know like I didn’t know, “Hispanic” is a term used by the federal census to have people identify themselves as coming from a place where Spanish is the primary language. ” Latino ”is a term for people to describe themselves as coming from Latin America. Brazil has a population of over 200 million Portuguese speakers.)
Population growth was predominant in southeastern Pennsylvania. Otherwise, 44 of the 67 Commonwealth counties lost population. (Erie County lost 3.5%. Crawford County lost 5.7%. Warren County lost 7.7%.) The number of legislative districts will gravitate to the southeast. Hispanic Pennsylvanians know this.
As of the 2020 census, Pennsylvania has a population of 13,002,700. In strict accounting, each of its 203 legislative districts should have 64,053 inhabitants and each senatorial district should have 260,054 inhabitants.
Lehigh County has grown from 349,675 to 374,557 people. By the same strict accounting, this would give the county the right to 5.8 representatives and 1.4 senators. The county currently has 7 representatives – only three of which have districts entirely within the county. It has two senators, only one of which has a district entirely within the county. The Hispanic portion of the county’s population fell from 18.8% to 25.9% of the overall. None of the representatives or senators, as of yet anyway, have a recognizable Hispanic name.
Allentown is located in County Lehigh. It is the state’s fastest growing large city and, with 121,252 residents, the third largest. Over the past decade, it has increased by 6.6%. Those who identify as Hispanic now make up the majority of the city’s population. The city council has several members who indicate a Hispanic origin in their biographies. This is not the case at the school board. The city is represented in the House of Representatives by Michael Schlossberg (district 131) and Peter Schweyer (22nd district.)
County Lehigh also contains part of the city of Bethlehem which stretches across the River Lehigh to County Northampton. Almost a third of Bethlehem’s 75,790 residents identify as Hispanic. This connectivity across the river makes sense for Senator Lisa Boscola (District 18) to serve parts of Lehigh and Northampton counties. Representatives Milou McKenzie (District 131) and Zachary Maho (District 183) also serve parts of both counties.
According to the state constitution, legislative constituencies “must be composed of a compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal as possible in population” and that “[u]Unless absolutely necessary, no county, city, incorporated city, district, township or neighborhood will be divided into a senatorial or representative district.
In past redistributions, strict respect for the equality of the population has been used to rationalize gerrymandering – the practice dishonored by the time that politicians can choose their voters before voters choose them. Equal numbers of population, in the redistribution process, would prevail over compactness, contiguity and respect for local political jurisdictions. The contiguous counties of Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Bucks and Montgomery have for the past three decades been a “battleground” for gerrymander – in terms of both legislative and congressional representation.
During this same period, federal courts have come to accept, albeit still on a case-by-case basis, up to a 10% gap in population equality between legislative districts – provided that gap is necessary. to accomplish other important cutting criteria. , such as compactness, contiguity and respect for local political jurisdictions.
Hispanic Pennsylvanians in Lehigh County and other parts of southeastern Pennsylvania are poised to gain an increasingly influential voice in our politics. Whether that voice speaks with a Democratic or Republican accent remains to be seen – but that shouldn’t matter to the Legislative Redistribution Commission. What should matter to the LRC is that citizens who have chosen to live in particular geographic areas where societal and political ties unite them receive their constitutional right to elect representatives to the General Assembly.
Hartley is a retired chief engineer in the Merchant Navy. His 33-year career has been spent on the Great Lakes. Previously, he was a steelworker and an officer in the United States Coast Guard. He holds a BA in English and American Literature from Brown University. He is the author of “Christy Mathewson: A Biography”, published by McFarland in 2005. He and his wife Cyd make Corry their home.