The AP has been analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Congress and the National Conference of State Legislatures to see how closely our lawmakers match our demographics.
Their findings are summarized in Divided America: Minorities missing in many legislatures.
The result: all minority groups are underrepresented.
- Blacks are the least underrepresented but still face sizable gaps in some places.
- More than half the states still have no lawmakers with Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, and just four states have any in Congress. They represent about 5 percent of the U.S. population.
- Hispanics comprise more than 17 percent of the U.S. population, yet they are fewer than 7 percent in Congress and fewer than 4 percent of state legislators.
Pennsylvania has only two Hispanic legislators, less than 1%, despite a 6% Hispanic population.
A lack of political representation can carry real-life consequences, and not only on hot-button immigration issues. State spending for public schools, housing and social programs all can have big implications for minority communities. So can decisions on issues such as criminal justice reform, election laws or the printing of public documents in other languages besides English
When the people elected don’t look, think, talk or act like the people they represent, it can deepen divisions that naturally exist in the U.S.
Unequal representation has many causes. Partisan redistricting is one that state legislatures can solve.
When politicians draw their own electoral maps, it’s easy to shut out new voices. Independent citizen commissions with requirements for diversity among commissioners and strong standards of public participation and transparency can create space for more equal representation.
In another article from the Divide America series, the AP reports that momentum is building for this kind of important reform.
“If you remove the partisan intent, then you make it much easier to draw maps that are fair for everyone, including minority groups.”
Fair Districts PA supports this kind of reform here in Pennsylvania. We support legislation to amend the state constitution and create an independent, impartial citizens commission with standards that would make possible a more inclusive representation.