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Campaign Eyes Mass. Redistricting, Minority Voting

Advocates hoping to strengthen the voting power of Massachusetts' Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans have launched a campaign aimed at getting minorities involved in redistricting debates after new census data showed their populations' surge.

The Massachusetts campaign, called the "Drawing Democracy Project," will urge residents to attend statewide hearing dates on redistricting and put pressure on state officials as they redraw voting district lines. Advocates said Monday that they wanted to make sure the redistricting process remains transparent and that officials hear directly from residents at public hearings.

"We're putting together a tool kit and we are ready to train residents," said Reade Everett, a legal fellow for Common Cause Massachusetts, one of the groups involved in the campaign. That training involved tips on civic engagement and speaking at public hearings, he said.

A 24-member panel, chaired by state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, and Rep. Michael Moran of Boston, is redrawing the state's congressional districts to reflect the state's loss of one seat in the U.S. House due to population shifts. The panel has scheduled public hearings across the state and have launched an interactive website that will allow residents to submit online testimony if they are unable to attend any of the public hearings.

The move by Massachusetts advocates mirrored efforts by activists in other states that also saw the number of people of color jump in the last 10 years. For example, in California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada - states that saw a surge among Latino residents - advocates are preparing to jump into redistricting fights in order to create voting districts that could be drawn around largely Latino areas.

According to the U.S. Census, Massachusetts saw its Latino and Asian-American population each jump 46 percent over the last 10 years. The state's black population - mainly driven by immigrants from Haiti - saw a rise of 26 percent, while the white population fell by 1.9 percent, census data showed.

Still, Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director of Oiste, a nonprofit group that trains Massachusetts Latinos to run for office and one of the other groups involved in the campaign, said the state's growing diversity isn't reflected in the state's political makeup.

"I'm looking at a Legislature that has one person of color in the Senate and a handful of people of color in the House and I don't think that reflects the diversity of the state," St. Guillen said.

St. Guillen said minority advocates have complained that previous redistricting plans packed minority groups together and weakened their voting potential.

Moran said concerns by similar community groups are just one of many factors the committee will take into consideration when drawing up new districts.

"There is a whole bunch of variables you have to consider," Moran said. "There (is) no one variable that outweighs another variable other than the ones that are clearly spelled out in our Constitution. Those are: contiguous and proportional."

Moran said if the committee doesn't follow those guidelines and others set by the Voting Rights Act, the redrawn districts would be open to lawsuit challenges.

Moran said he's been in contact with advocates and has made it a point to publicize public hearings over redistricting efforts.

But he stop short of saying that the panel would move to create another "minority influenced" district like another panel did 10 year ago when it created the 8th Congressional district - a district where 49 percent of residents were minorities.

Everett said advocates are pleased with the panel's response early on.

"It's great that the process has been so transparent, so far," said Everett. "But we have a long way to go."

This program aired on March 28, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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