While census figures provide the basis for the Congressional redistricting that will take place later this year, it's more than just a numbers game. Though the first criteria requires all districts to maintain equal population, minority representation is just as big of a factor in drawing new lines. 90.3's Renita Jablonski examines what the first batch of census race data means for the future of Ohio's Congressional districts.
Renita Jablonski- It's no secret that Ohio will lose a Congressional seat in 2002 due to faster growing states to its west and south. The reapportionment committee re-drawing political boundaries will obviously have to follow changes in population but it will also have to pay close attention to the state's racial makeup. Mark Salling is working on illustrating that picture. He's director of the Northern Ohio Data and Information Service at Cleveland State University. NODIS is partnering with the Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development at Ohio University. They are responsible for building the Common Redistricting Database for the state.
Mark Salling- What makes it even more interesting or complicated this time around, for the first time the census bureau allowed respondents to check more than one race that they felt they belonged to or were a part of and so there are up to six races that one can identify with, in fact.
RJ- At first, the option of checking more than one race on the form had state officials worried that it would make for an even more complicated redistricting process, but as census data began rolling in a few weeks ago it was clear the multi-box choice will have little significance for Ohio.
MS- Most people still identify with only one race and so if you look at the data that the census bureau produced and you look at the numbers of persons who responded only one race, it's still 95% or more of the population.
RJ- Just take Cuyahoga County's numbers for example: nearly 70% of the county's population is white, almost 30% is black and less than 2% identified themselves with two or more races. Jim Tilling is Chief of Staff for Ohio's Attorney General and a veteran player in the state's reapportionment process. He says the numbers reaffirm the importance of focusing on Ohio's African American community.
Jim Tilling- In the previous decade a lot of emphasis was placed on affirmatively trying to draw a minority district wherever there were compact and even in some cases, not very compact districts, but in this latest round of Supreme Court decisions looking ahead to the 2000 cycle, the operating principle seems to be you're not obligated to maximize districts but you are forbidden from diluting minority voting strength from where they're at today.
RJ- That means the only Congressional district represented by an African American faces little or no threat or losing its seat in the House.
JT- That's the one represented currently by Stephanie Tubbs-Jones and we have an obligation to maintain that district to the maximum degree.
RJ- But there is another group redistricting officials will have to pay attention to this time around - Ohio's increasing Hispanic community. But as Salling explains, that's considered an ethnic group, not a racial category.
MS- The racial categories are simply white, black or African American, American Indian, Asian, Hawaiian and other Pacific islands and other.
RJ- Tilling says lawmakers in northeast Ohio will have to give extra care to the Hispanic community. Statewide the number of Hispanics is barely 2% but in Cuyahoga County it's nearly double that.
JT- The only difference that we would want to examine on an empirical basis would be the political affinity or interests of Hispanic voters because even though they may not be a racial group they are an interest group and if it could be determined that they have a preference for being in a majority or minority district we would certainly want to take that into account.
RJ- Tilling says states that have more diverse populations, such as California, Florida and Texas, have the real challenge when it comes to race roles in redistricting. Something he says Ohio may not see for at least another decade.
JT- In Ohio the only protected class that has reached the threshold stage where it's important in map drawing at ths point in our state's history is the African American community.
RJ- Another important factor to consider before any lines can be drawn is minority movement.
JT- We have to account for population mobility which has primarily been flight out of the district and into other areas in the county so we're going to have to make sure that we recombine those people in such a way that the district is favorable to a minority voter's ability to elect a candidate of their choice as it was in the previous decade.
RJ- The Ohio General Assembly won't start the official Congressional redistricting process until this fall. In the meantime, Tilling says decision makers will begin public hearings to collect opinions about where the new lines should go from the state's African American and Hispanic communities.