More than 30 years ago, Robert Raves Sr. attended a meeting of his county government in Sanford, North Carolina, demanding that the county create a predominantly black district, which at the time was 23% black but had no black representation. , or face legal action under the Voting Rights Act.
The District Commission refused, and Raves prepared to sue. But after the county settled and changed counties, he was elected in 1990 as the first Black Commissioner for Lee County, a position he has successfully held since then.
Until this year.
Republicans, who recently came to power and control the redrawing of district maps, expanded the district to the northeast, adding more rural and suburban white voters to the predominantly rural district southwest of Raleigh, effectively weakening the influence of its black voters. Raves, who is still the county’s only Black Commissioner, fears that he will now lose his seat.
“They all have the same goal,” he said in an interview, referring to local Republican officials. “To get me out of the chair.”
The Raves is one of a growing number of black elected officials – from members of Congress to empowered constituencies – who have been removed from their constituencies, placed in new competing constituencies, or amalgamated into new constituencies, where they must compete with actors from their own party. …
Nearly all of the affected legislators are Democrats, and most of the mapmakers are White Republicans. The GOP is currently seeking to expand its lead in states including North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia and Texas, and since biased gerrimandering has long been difficult to separate from racial manipulation, proving that motive can be problematic.
But the effect remains the same: less political power for communities of color.
This pattern became more pronounced during this year’s constituency redistribution cycle, the first since the Supreme Court overturned the bulk of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and allowed jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination to pass electoral laws and draw political maps without approval from the authorities. Department of Justice.
“Let’s call it a fire with five alarms,” G.K. Butterfield, a Negro from North Carolina, on the current congressional redistribution.
He resigns the following year after Republicans removed Pitt County, which is roughly 35% black, from his county.
“I just didn’t expect it,” he said in an interview. “I didn’t believe they would go to such an extreme.”
Former chairman of the Black faction in Congress, Butterfield said black members of Congress are increasingly worried about the new cards drawn by Republicans.
“We’re all in shock,” he said.
In addition to Butterfield, four black state senators in North Carolina, five black members of the State House of Representatives, and several black county officials have changed their districts in ways that could cost them their seats. Almost 24 hours after the cards were handed over, civil rights groups are suing the state.
Across the country, it is difficult to determine the exact number of colored elected officials whose districts have been changed in this way. The New York Times has identified more than two dozen of these officials, but there are likely many more in counties and municipalities. And whose places are vulnerable or safe depends on many factors, including the political environment at the time of the elections.
But the number of black legislators being pulled out of their constituencies exceeds the number of recent constituency redistribution cycles, in which eligible groups have often found themselves in court trying to preserve existing minority-majority constituencies as often as they have sought to create new ones.
“Without a doubt, this is worse than it has been in any past decade,” said Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. “We have something to fight with, and all this is happening very quickly. “
Republicans, who have much more control over district redistribution at the national level than Democrats, defend their cards as legitimate and fair for a number of reasons.
Kirk Smith, Republican chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, said that “the assertion that only a person of a particular racial or ethnic group can only represent a person of the same race or ethnic group has all the trappings of ethnocentric racism.”
In North Carolina and elsewhere, Republicans say their new maps are race-insensitive, meaning that officials did not use racial information in their maps and therefore could not draw racially discriminated areas because they had no idea how where the colored communities are.
“During the 2011 districts redistribution process, legislators took race into account when drawing districts,” North Carolina Republican Senator Ralph Heise said in a statement.
Through an official, he refused to answer specific questions, citing a pending trial.
His statement continued: “We were then sued for considering race and ordered to paint new areas. Thus, during this process, legislators did not use race data when drawing counties, and now we are being sued for not accounting for race. “
In other states, cartographers have refused to add new areas with a predominance of people of color, despite a sharp increase in minority populations. In Texas, where the population increased by 4 million since the 2010 county redistribution cycle, people of color accounted for more than 95% of the increase, but the State Legislature has awarded two new congressional seats with a predominantly white population. And in states such as Alabama and South Carolina, Republican mapmakers continue a long tradition of combining nearly all black voters in a single constituency, despite voter arguments for two separate counties. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said Thursday that the Republican-controlled state legislature should form a second majoritarian district, the Black House.
Allison Riggs, co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a civil rights group, said the fraud was “actually an attack on black voters, and black representatives are the visible result.”
Efforts to curb racial gerrymandering were hampered by a 2019 Supreme Court ruling that ruled that biased gerrymandering could not be challenged in federal court.
While the court upheld section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial gerrimandering, there was no specific guidance on how to distinguish between guerrilla gerrimander and racial gerrimander when both were the result, for example, in communities with predominance of black democrats.
Given that certain demographic groups are closely tied to political parties – for example, 90% of black voters in Georgia voted Democratic in 2020 – officials drawing the altered maps might simply argue that politics, not race, was playing.
In Georgia, Rep. Lucy McBeth, another black congressional member, was dragged into the district along with fellow Democrat Caroline Burdeau and organized a competitive primary.
In South Carolina, four black Democrats in the State House of Representatives have been dragged into counties along with other Democrats – compared to just one white Republican couple in one county. J. Todd Rutherford, a black Democrat from Colombia who is the minority leader in the State House of Representatives, said the cards proposed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. that would support black-dominated areas would be subject to their own objections to fraud because many of the state’s new residents were white retirees.
At the same time, he said, Democrats had to tamper with legislative cards in order to preserve black areas due to the loss of black populations in rural areas, even as the number of whites in the state has skyrocketed. Rutherford said South Carolina Republicans took advantage of this population shift.
“It was extremely disturbing,” he said of the demographic change. “The problem is that there is simply no population there. These cards were distorted, and most of the Republicans knocked them down. “
Worry is also spreading through the Ohio Black Legislature, which is made up of 19 state representatives and senators and is one of the oldest black factions in the country.
Last month, Republicans in Ohio adopted a revised card that secured super-majority in both houses of the legislature, meaning Republicans will control more than two-thirds of the seats, even though former President Donald Trump won just 53% of Ohio’s voters in 2020 year.
At least four black members of the state legislature have changed their districts or have been dragged into another district. Rep. Juanita Brent, vice president of the Black Legislature who has represented parts of Cleveland since 2019, has been relocated to a neighboring county.
“Black Democratic sentiment against each other, or decreasing the number of constituencies in which people can run, or moving people to a completely different constituency,” Brent said in an interview, “is actually trying to reduce our representation. “State Senator Rob McCallley, the Republican who sponsored the bill establishing the new maps, did not respond to requests for comment. He previously praised the new maps for the fact that each of the major cities in the state is located in the same Senate district.
“At no time since the mid-60s have these seven major cities been intact, and for the first time in more than 150 years, Cincinnati will be in the same area,” McCallie said in a statement last month. “This is a truly historic event.”
But Brent said keeping these cities in separate neighborhoods is tantamount to a form of gerrymendering known as “wrapping,” which is often used to reduce the capacity of densely populated areas and often prevents minority communities from increasing their representation.
“You’re not really giving Cleveland a chance for fair representation,” she said. “And Cleveland is the city with the majority of African Americans.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.