Magpantay: Wanted: equal political access


Grace meng.jpgNewsday – There are 1.4 million Asian-Americans who now live in New York. In New York City alone, our community grew 32 percent over the past decade, to over 1 million people. Half a million Asian-Americans live in Queens, where the Asian-American population grew 300 times faster than the rest of the population.

So if you’re new to New York’s redistricting process, you may be surprised to learn that only one state Assembly district in New York has a majority of Asian-American voters – and not a single State Senate district has an Asian-American majority.

We hope to change that. As part of the once-in-a-decade redistricting process, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund proposed the Unity Map, a joint effort with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the National Institute for Latino Policy, and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, which redraws district lines so that they take into account New York City’s Asian-American, Latino, and black populations. Our proposed map includes four Asian-American majority State Assembly districts (compared to the current one), and one new majority State Senate district in Flushing/Bayside (where there are none) in New York City.

Why are Asian-American majority districts – or minority-majority districts as they are sometimes called – so crucial to the political process? Consider this: The only Asian-American member of the entire New York State Legislature, Grace Meng, was elected in the only Asian-American majority district. Therefore, it’s no surprise that no Asian-American has ever been elected to the New York State Senate, or to the United States Congress.

This is as clear a sign as any that the votes of Asian-Americans are diluted in New York. But the point of redistricting is not to elect more people of color to political office. It is to give people of color outside of political office – the voters – the same power as white voters to elect whoever they think is best for the job.

This principle is protected by the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires that Asian, black and Latino residents have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Districts must not be drawn to dilute minority voting strength or intentionally disenfranchise minority voters. Rather, the Voting Rights Act recognizes the need to keep “communities of interest” – which extend beyond race or ethnicity – within the same voting district, so that residents have a chance to elect someone who will go on to represent their interests.

Last month, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the state law requiring prisoners to be counted as living in their last place of residence, rather than where they are incarcerated. This decision, a big win for civil rights groups as it affects the voting rights of all New Yorkers, now clears the way for legislators to move forward with the redistricting process, and ensure that downstate residents and racial minorities have appropriate representation.

Our demographics are changing. Like the Asian-American population, the Latino population has continued to grow over the past decade. In New York City alone, there are 2.4 million Latino residents, making up 29 percent of the total population. Combined with the 2.2 million black residents (26 percent of New York City’s total population) and the over 1 million Asian-Americans (13 percent), minorities are now the new majority in New York City. It is time our political system reflected that.

By Glenn D. Magpantay
Glenn D. Magpantay is director of the Democracy Program at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

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