June7, 2002

Redistricting 2000: A Lost Opportunity for Latinos

By Leo F. Estrada, Ph.D
UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research

At the beginning of the decade, political analysts expected Latinos to benefit the most in terms of representation after the 2000 Census. There was every reason to be optimistic. Throughout the decade, Census Bureau estimates signaled that Latino growth would be impressive due to a combination of higher fertility and continued immigration. In 2001, when the Census Bureau released its official figures, Latino leaders had every reason to be elated. The Census figure of 35.3 million exceeded the Census Bureau’s own official estimates by 3.5 million. A population that added 13 million more Latinos over the decade had to expect that it would advance its political representation.

A Decade of Demographic Growth

The Latino population grew by 58 percent in the 1990s compared to 8.7 percent growth over the decade for the non-Latino population. Thus, Latinos who comprise 13 percent of the national population accounted for 65 percent of the national growth in the 1990s.

These are rather remarkable and impressive numbers. Redistricting is based on population totals and many assumed that given the size of this population increase, Latinos would attain several goals:

1) to have more districts with Latino constituents and gain greater visibility;

2) to have more districts with Latino majority populations with an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice;

3) to have more influence in local and State elections; and 4) to gain greater representation in State legislatures and U.S. Congress. Although redistricting rewards population growth, it requires that that population be concentrated.

Old Growth and New Places

Latino growth in the 1990s did in fact increase the density of Latinos in the States in which they have traditionally been concentrated: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, and New Jersey. Even in 2000, two states, California and Texas account for half of the Latino population (31% and 19%, respectively) of the U.S. In addition, three States—California, Texas and Florida—account for about half of the total growth of 13 million Latinos.

However, in the 1990s, Latino growth expanded beyond these historically Latino states that have served as ports of entry for immigration. Among the States with impressive gains in Latino population were North Carolina (+394%), Arkansas (+337%), Georgia (300%), Tennessee (+278%), Nevada (+217%), South Carolina (+211), Alabama (+208), Kentucky (+173), Minnesota (+166%), and Nebraska (+155).

The dispersion of Latino population is generally attributed to the search for employment opportunities in agriculture, food processing, construction, and varied service industries in areas with declining proportions of working age population, the need by industry sectors for craft workers and the demand for low paid service workers.

The 7 million Latinos that reside outside the top 10 Latino states are dispersed in metropolitan areas with limited opportunities for electoral influence. The exception to this is the growing electoral influence Latinos are having in small rural towns across the U.S.

Thus, the impressive growth of Latino population was offset to some extent by the dispersion outside the most populous Latino states. In addition, in metropolitan areas, Latinos dispersed from their traditional ethnic enclaves into suburban areas.

The Benefits of Reapportionment

The reapportionment process also seemed to favor advances in Latino political representation. Three States with large concentrations of Latinos, Arizona, Florida, and Texas would each gain two additional Congressional seats. Two other States with significant Latino population, California and Colorado would each gain one additional Congressional seat. Among the nine States losing Congressional seats, only two States, Illinois that lost one Congressional seat and New York that lost two Congressional seats were likely to reduce Latino opportunities. The net gain was three new Congressional seats in densely Latino States.

Eligibility and Citizenship

An alysis of achievements in Latino electoral representation cannot ignore the issue of eligibility and citizenship. Hispanics obtain 16 votes for every 100 persons in the population compared to 46 votes for every 100 persons in the population. Latinos have several disadvantages in creating a strong electoral presence.

1) Latinos are younger on the average and thus a higher proportion of Latinos are too young to vote;

2) Latino non-citizens are sizeable and thus a very high proportion of Latinos are ineligible to register to vote;

3) Latino voter registration rates are the lowest of all groups. Generally speaking, voting rates increase with age, higher education, employment, higher incomes and home ownership. Latinos are young, have low educational attainment, lower income, and lower rates of home ownership.

In time, the Latino population will begin to mature, and with greater educational attainment, employment levels, income and home ownership will increase. Until that time, Latinos population will not translate into effective voting power. One positive sign is the higher than average rates of voting for newly naturalized citizens. With 4.1 million Latino naturalized citizens and millions more ultimately eligible for naturalization, Latino electoral strength can be accelerated with greater efforts to register newly naturalized citizens.

2000 Redisticting Results

The redistricting process is not yet complete. Some States are still considering competing plans while other States are in litigation over their plans. While the final outcome is still in doubt, the following State-by-State analysis reflects the current situation.


In the decade of the 90s, Texas grew by 3.8 million persons and 60 percent of that growth was due to Latino growth. The 2000 Census reported 6.7 million Latinos comprising 32 percent of the total State population. Based on that growth, it was expected that Latinos would have an opportunity to gain two additional Congressional seats.

Texas was among the first States to redistrict and it set the tone for what was to come. The legislature failed to consider redistricting legislation and the task passed to the Texas Legislative Redistricting Board which created a status quo plan. MALDEF sued the Redistricting Board.1 The panel of 3 U.S. District Court judges ruled partially in favor of the plaintiffs and re-drew the State house districts adding one more Latino-majority district. Latinos now have majority populations in 34 out of 150 State House seats. The Courts however, let stand the Redistricting Board’s Senate and Congressional plans. Thus, Latino growth in Texas did not result in any additional Senate or Congressional seats. The situation remains the same with 6 Latino-majority Senate seats out of 31 and 6 Latino majority Congressional seats out of a total of 32 Congressional seats. MALDEF is currently appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

New York

In the 1990s, New York grew by 986,000 persons and Latino growth accounted for 66 percent of that growth. Latinos comprise 2.9 million or 34 percent of the State’s population and continue to be concentrated in the greater New York metropolitan area. Unlike other high-growth States with large concentrations of Latinos, New York lost two Congressional seats in the apportionment process following the 2000 census. New York is in early stages of the redistricting process, however, at this point it appears that Congressional districts in Upstate will be collapsed thus, Latinos will retain their 2 Congressional seats (Rep Serrano and Rep Velazquez) out of 29 Congressional seats.


In the 1990s, Florida grew by 3 million persons and Latinos accounted for 36 percent of the growth. The 2000 Census counted 2.7 million Latinos who represent 17 percent of the State’s total population. Florida’s Latinos continue to be concentrated in the southernmost part of the State particularly, Dade County.

With two new Congressional seats, the GOP-dominated legislature created a new Republican leaning Congressional seat (District 25) that is being contested between a Cuban American State legislator (Betancourt) and a political newcomer with a recognizable surname (Diaz-Balart). Either way, Latino Congressional representation will increase by one to 3 out of 25.


California grew by 4.1 million persons and Latinos accounted for 80 percent of that growth. In 2000, Latinos numbered an impressive 11 million persons representing 32 percent of the State’s population and remain concentrated in the southern part of the State, particularly Los Angeles County.

Despite efforts by several groups to influence the State legislative redistricting process, the Governor, State legislative leaders agreed beforehand to create a status quo plan that would retain the same numbers of Democratic and Republican legislative seats as in 1990. To do so, required that Latino population be concentrated in Latino districts and in several cases be fragmented to dilute their voting strength.

As a result, Latinos hold 16 of 80 seats in the State Assembly and 7 of 40 seats in the State Senate. When the State legislature failed to include a single new Congressional seat in the San Fernando Valley with a Latino population of over 800,000, MALDEF sued.

This challenge has received some notoriety because the challenge focuses on two Congressional Districts held by Congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who have had prior support from Latinos for their progressive political stances. The data show that one of the two districts could have been configured to be an effective Latino majority seat. But rather than jeopardize the incumbency of either of these popular Congressmen, the State legislature chose to fragment the Latino population. The case is currently in litigation. Latino Congressional representation will increase by one with an expected win by Linda Sanchez in Southeast Los Angeles County. Latinos now hold 7 of 53 Congressional seats.


Even at this point, it is clear that the expectations of some “quantum leap” in Latino political power following the 2000 Census will not occur. The reapportionment process gave high density Latino States 6 new Congressional opportunities. Latinos will take 3 of those six new seats—one new Congressional seat in Arizona, California and Florida. This is clearly an advance but one that pales in terms of the 13 million increase in population. How does one explain this?

This report is part of a conference presented by The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies “Redistricting, 1992-2002: Voting Rights and Minority Representation”, May 22, 2002. The conference is part of the Joint Center’s multi-year project on voting rights sponsored by the Ford and Joyce Foundations. Additional papers/summaries presented at the conference are available at http://www.jointcenter.org/whatsnew/conference_on_redistricting.htm.

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