Mapping toward Racial Equity

Pennsylvania’s Black and Brown populations have been growing steadily across the past decades, but representation in the PA General Assembly has not kept pace.

While the greatest growth in the last decade has been in the Latino community, PA has never had a Hispanic senator and has only 4 Hispanic representatives. To achieve equity in the coming decade, PA would need 4 Latinx senators and 16 representatives.

Representation numbers are significantly better for PA’s African American residents, but challenges remain. Allegheny County has never had an black PA senator, despite continued growth in the black community. In some of PA’s smaller cities, communities of color are splintered, undermining attempts by people of color to elect representatives who reflect their communities and share specific concerns.

Any attempt to address racial equity in redistricting will take collaboration between legislators, legal scholars, geographers and statisticians, leaders of impacted communities and concerned, informed citizens. Such a group gathered for the Mapping toward Racial Equity forum held on September 22, available on Youtube here.

Some key takeaways:

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act gives legal force to the need for majority-minority districts (a legal term describing districts where members of racial minorities make up a majority of eligible voting age population). Those districts define a majority as 51% of the voting age population, but that requirement has sometimes been used to give cover to efforts to pack black and brown voters (and by inference, Democratic voters) into one districts far past the needed number to minimize influence in adjacent districts. In some regions of the county, and the state, the ideal number might be closer to 35 to 40%.

Past and current social policies have shaped housing patterns, often to the detriment of black and brown communities. In Pittsburgh, urban renewal and decisions about public housing pushed African-Americans to marginalized neighborhoods in hazardous areas where white residents chose not to live.

Districts should be drawn in conversation with the communities who live there. Local voices are essential to deciding how best to ensure local representation.

Additional Resources:

Redistricting Community Handbook Co-created by MALDEF, Common Cause and State Voices in collaboration with League of Women Voters, Mi Famiia Vota, NAACP, National Congress of American Indians, APIA Vote, Center for Popular Democracy and Fair Count

Power on the Line(s): Making Redistricting Work for Us Redistricting Guide created by NAACP-LDF, MALDEF and Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Data: Examining the Latino Population Growth in Philadelphia and Across Pennsylvania ABC Action News; Our America: TaRhonda Thomas, September 14, 2021

Mapping Technology Explains the History of Redlining: The Tartan, Carnegie Mellon, Kian Nasre, Feb 2, 2020