Establishing local election districts and other political boundaries may scatter or concentrate like-minded voters in ways that either disadvantage them or empower them. The concept of an “effective voting majority” will figure prominently in forthcoming redistricting efforts as well as in subsequent legal challenges to prior redistricting. The new Washington Voting Rights Act has spurred concerns with how a politically cohesive racial/ethnic minority group fares under a municipality’s existing at-large election system. These concerns point to topics that may be suitable for graduate students’ dissertations.
As an empirical matter, the Federal Voting Rights Act poses a three-prong legal test, commonly referred to as the three Gingles preconditions: (1) Is the minority sufficiently large and compact to constitute a majority in an illustrative single-member district? (2) Do the members of minority groups vote cohesively? (3) Does White bloc voting usually deny minority voters the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice? Applied demographers can follow a recognized protocol to address the first Gingles prong: evaluating whether the minority group in question is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority of the eligible voters (citizens age 18 and older) in a single-member election district.
Drawing upon several case studies, I illustrate various ways that local demographic contexts in Washington and elsewhere impose practical limitations on drawing election districts meant to empower a specific group. A community’s spatial context may influence a minority group’s geographically compactness through its distinctive residential patterns (e.g., geographically concentrated vs. scattered). A minority group’s demographic compo sition (its citizenship-age profile) may exaggerate the group’s actual presence among residents eligible to vote.