The Voices of Minority Communities Can Be Diluted in Elections

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Op-Ed by State Reps. Danilo Burgos (D-Philadelphia), Angel Cruz (D-Philadelphia), and Manny Guzman (D-Berks)

Since the approval of the preliminary plan for Pennsylvania’s state House of Representatives on December 16, 2021, there has been a significant amount of discussion about how this map impacts communities of color across the Commonwealth. As Latino members of the House, we feel compelled to address these important concerns.

We applaud the work that Chairman Nordenberg and the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) have done to ensure these communities, which have been underrepresented in the legislature for far too long, are fairly represented.

Since the 2010 Census, while the population of White Pennsylvanians declined by 500,000 people, the Latino population grew by 45.85% or 329,955 people. This is a seismic shift in the racial composition of the Commonwealth, with people of color now making up nearly a quarter of the overall population.

The LRC’s Preliminary House Plan is responsive to this growth of the Latino population in many important ways. Statewide, this plan creates nine districts in which Latino communities should be able to elect their candidates of choice. Three of those districts will be open seats with no incumbent member, meaning a Latino candidate of choice would not need to overcome the power of incumbency in order to be elected.

The voices of minority communities can be diluted in elections through what is known as “packing.” Packing is when a community is isolated into one district, making a large percentage of the population in that district, and therefore stopping them from impacting elections in neighboring districts. The LRC plan unpacks some of these districts so communities can elect their candidate of choice in more than one district.

In the last decade, all population growth in Lancaster County occurred in communities of color, and today 11% of Lancaster County is Latino. This growth is reflected in the map by moving a House District from southwestern Pennsylvania, where population was lost, to Lancaster City. As proposed, this House District will have a minority population of 50%, nearly 33% of which identifies as Latino, and no incumbent member. This district is a clear opportunity for the Latino community to gain representation.

In Reading, the Latino population grew by more than 25% since 2010 and now makes up 68% of the city’s total population. The preliminary plan for the House unpacks the Latino population in House Districts 126 and 127 and increases the Latino population in House District 129 to more than 35%. The effect of these changes is that the Latino community in Berks County will now have three opportunities to elect candidates of choice.

In Allentown, where Latinos now make up more than 50% of the population, the LRC plan also increases minority opportunities. The map unpacks House District 22 to increase the Latino population in House District 134 to nearly 40%, resulting in two districts in which the Latino community should be able to elect their candidates of choice.

In Luzerne County, House District 116 has been redrawn and will now have a Latino population of more than 37%, an increase of nearly 10%. This change should allow the Latino community in Luzerne County to elect their candidate of choice.

In closing, Latino representation is lacking in Pennsylvania, particularly when you consider the growth that has occurred across Pennsylvania over the last decade. The LRC plan makes major strides in correcting this injustice and restoring fairness in representation in Pennsylvania. As Latino members of the Pennsylvania House, we embrace the goal of the LRC and applaud their work. We look forward to serving in a more diverse legislature.

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