Minority districts drop after redistricting, despite population growth

Minorities make up a majority or near majority in fewer new state legislative districts despite accounting for nearly all of the population growth over the past decade.
The Texas State Capitol Building in Austin (Photo: Reid Wilson, Pluribus News)

The number of state legislative districts where racial or ethnic minorities make up a majority or a near majority of the population dropped substantially after the latest round of redistricting, even as those minority groups accounted for virtually all of the population growth the nation experienced over the last decade.

An analysis of the demographics of thousands of state legislative districts redrawn in the wake of the 2020 Census conducted exclusively for Pluribus News finds there are 368 districts around the country where Black Americans make up a majority of the population, down from 390 Black-majority districts before new political boundaries were drawn.

The number of districts where Hispanics make up the majority of the population has risen from 249 under the old lines to 258 today. But the number of districts where Hispanics make up between 30% and 50% of the population — a share that would give those populations a strong chance of electing one of their own to state office — declined by 23 seats.

The analysis, conducted by Brian Amos, a political scientist at Wichita State University, examined 6,372 state legislative districts under map lines that were in effect for the 2020 elections and 6,467 districts drawn during the subsequent redistricting process across 49 states. The results do not include Montana, where legislators have yet to draw new state legislative district lines.

The number of districts before and after redistricting varies because of differences in the ways each state draws districts for upper and lower chambers.

The decline in minority-heavy districts is especially stark after the results of the 2020 Census showed minorities making up a much larger share of the American population than they did a decade ago. The U.S. population includes 62 million Hispanic residents, up from just over 50 million a decade ago. There are 41.1 million Black Americans in the United States, up from 38.9 million in 2010.

At the same time, the number of non-Hispanic White Americans — still the largest share of the population by far — fell over the decade, from 223 million in 2010 to 204 million in 2020.

A change in the way the U.S. Census Bureau counts those who identify as more than one racial or ethnic group increased the number of multi-ethnic Americans from 9 million in the 2010 count to more than 33.8 million in the 2020 count.

This latest round of redistricting was the first since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sections of the Voting Rights Act, weakening provisions that were meant to protect minorities during the remapping process. The high court’s decision in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder effectively allowed states that once had to seek approval from the federal Justice Department before making changes to minority-heavy districts to circumvent those requirements.

“It is the first full redistricting without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, so there are no protections on retrogression, where states that were under Section 5 coverage were expected to keep the same number of majority-minority districts barring a clear shift of demographics,” Amos said.

The analysis shows that the number of majority-minority seats dropped most significantly in states where Republicans fully controlled the redistricting process.

In Texas, Republicans approved and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed maps that create 109 majority-minority districts, five fewer than existed under the previous map. Census Bureau figures show that Texas added nearly 2 million Latino or Hispanic residents in the last decade, more than half a million Black residents, 613,000 Asian American residents — and just 187,000 non-Hispanic white residents.

“With 95% of the population growth coming from communities of color and about 50% of it from Latinos alone, it’s hard to imagine how you could draw these districts to actually reduce the number of majority-minority or majority-Latino districts without doing it on purpose,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, general counsel at the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in Texas.

In Florida, state legislators approved new maps that created 60 majority-minority legislative districts, six fewer than the last version.

Florida added 215,000 White residents between the last two censuses. It added almost 1.5 million Latino or Hispanic residents and 275,000 Black residents, according to an analysis by William Frey of the Brookings Institution.

“The decrease in minority-majority representation issue was raised countless times, to no avail,” said state Rep. Dan Daley (D), the top Democrat on the Florida House subcommittee overseeing legislative redistricting. “These maps were completed with little to no actual input from the public, from the minority party, or anyone other than Gov. [Ron] DeSantis (R) and the GOP legislative leadership.”

Florida state Rep. Tom Leek (R), who chaired the redistricting committee, did not respond to a request for comment. The Republican chairman of the legislative redistricting subcommittee, Cord Byrd, is now Florida’s secretary of state. Byrd’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Republicans made substantial gains in Florida’s legislature this year as the state trends toward the GOP. Republicans gained four seats in the state Senate, and at least four seats in the state House, with several races still too close to call.

All told, states that voted for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election shed a net of nine majority-minority districts. States that voted for President Biden added 35 majority-minority districts.

The decline in majority-minority districts may not result in a decline in minorities who win election to state legislatures. In fact, in many states, the 2022 midterm elections swept in historically diverse legislatures.

In Florida, where Black lawmakers make up a majority of the Democratic caucus, three new Black Republicans won election this month. Iowa elected a dozen people of color to the legislature, a new record. Minnesota’s incoming legislature will be the most diverse ever. Minorities will serve as legislative leaders for the first time in Maine and Michigan.

In some cases, a decline in the number of majority-minority seats is a reflection of changing population patterns.

The number of majority-minority seats in Mississippi dropped by four under the new map lines. But before redistricting, the Black-majority districts were substantially underpopulated. Legislators tasked with redrawing districts were required to consolidate some districts in order to give each seat an even population.

Before redistricting, there was an average of 21,820 people living in each of the 42 Mississippi state House districts where Black Americans made up a majority of the population. The 80 remaining districts, where Blacks made up less than half the residents, had an average population of 25,560.

Similarly, the 14 state Senate districts where Blacks made up a majority had average populations of 51,894. The remaining 38 districts had an average of 58,809 residents.

The states that added the most majority-minority districts were those where the remapping process was controlled by Democrats.

In New York, the number of majority-minority districts rose by seven. State Senate districts were redrawn by a special master after a state Supreme Court judge ruled that lines adopted by Democrats were unconstitutional. An appellate court ruled in June that Assembly district boundaries, also drawn by Democrats, were invalid; those lines were allowed to stand ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Democrats maintained supermajorities in both the state Assembly and Senate in this month’s elections.

Virginia also added seven new majority-minority districts. The Commonwealth’s new district lines were crafted by a bipartisan pair of special masters, whose maps were approved by the state Supreme Court.

Republicans narrowly control the House of Delegates and Democrats narrowly control the state Senate in Virginia, which holds legislative elections in odd-numbered years.

In Michigan, where a bipartisan independent commission drew district lines, the number of majority-minority districts grew by four. Democratic-controlled legislatures in Massachusetts and Maryland approved maps that added five and four new majority-minority seats, respectively.

The results were not uniform across the states. In California, where a commission controls the process, the number of majority-minority districts dropped by one, to 94. Democratic maps in Delaware and Illinois each shed one majority-minority district. Republican-drawn maps in North Dakota and Utah each added two majority-minority districts.