'Not enough': Critics say the proposed Pa regions are limiting Latino representation

While Latinos are the third largest national or ethnic group, some cities, especially Hispanics, are divided into two or more regions

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Members of the Pennsylvania community and local organizations are raising concerns that new regional law maps could reduce the voting power and political influence of the growing Latin community of the region.

About 330,000 Latinos have moved to Pennsylvania over the past decade. More than a million Latinos now live in the province, according to the 2020 census, making them the third largest group or race.

But first-person maps by the Legal Review Commission, which was approved last month, show that more Latin cities are divided into regions, which could reduce the chances of electing more Latinos in the legislature, critics say.

The Senate's proposed maps will do little to "expand the representation of the minority," especially in the Lehigh Valley region, according to an analysis from Fair Districts PA, a project not affiliated with the Pennsylvania Women's Voters organization.

The largest city in the region, Allentown, is the third largest Spanish city in Pennsylvania, with 54 percent Latino population. But lawmakers plan to split it into two Senate constituencies, though it is currently in one state.

The population of Bethlehem, in the same region, has grown by 21 percent over the past decade, reaching nearly 22,000 - meaning that Latinos now make up about a third of the city's population. The legislature also wants to divide it into two Senate constituencies, though it is currently in one.

The changes "will make it difficult, if not impossible, to elect a Latin Senator for that region," concludes an analysis of Fair Districts PA.

There are no Senators in the Latino region, although 8.1 percent of the country's population are Spanish. Latinos will need to win at least four seats in the Senate to ensure fair representation.

"While there is no consensus about the division of Bethlehem or not according to regional lines," because part of the city is located in Lehigh County and partly in Northampton County, "there is a strong consensus that Allentown should not be divided to create a secure single seat," said Carol Kuniholm, chairman of Fair Districts PA. , last week at the first public hearing on the law ban process this year.

‘Representation is important’

Victor Martinez, a Spanish-speaking broadcaster who owns a number of channels throughout the region, attended public hearings and expressed concern over the ban.

At last week's hearing, Martinez doubled his concerns over plans to further divide House zones in his hometown, leading to a decline in the percentage of Latinos in each region.

Allentown is divided into two House districts, one at least 60 percent Spanish. Maps of the proposed House will divide it into three regions of the House consisting of less than 55 percent Latino people.

"For me, in my community, the importance of representation is paramount," said Martinez, a resident of Allentown.

He pointed out that Pennsylvania has only four Latino state House representatives.

“It is not enough,” he said. For Latinos to be equally represented in the State House, it will need to win at least 22 seats.

"Unfortunately, I can't say that these maps bring that option and that opportunity," he said.

Martinez expressed similar concern over Reading, Pennsylvania, a predominantly Spanish city with 69 percent Latino population. He said the House in Reading region represented by Latino had lost 13 percent of Spanish people, according to preliminary maps.

"I believe this puts the Latin candidate at risk of losing the election," Martinez said.

Pennsylvania Voice, a non-partisan coalition of more than 45 local parties that researched different voting patterns in the Allentown area, expressed "deep concern about Allentown's segregation from the proposed National Senate map" at public forums last week.

The first maps show that the western side of downtown Allentown will share the Senate with parts of the Lehigh and Berks rural districts. Salewa Ogunmefun, executive director of Pennsylvania Voice, said it "reduced the voting capacity of these residents."

"We urge the commission to follow in the footsteps of previous commissions by preserving the town of Allentown, as well as the ability of the growing Latinx population and important Black people living there to select their preferred people," Ogunmefun told the redistribution commission last week.

Mark Nordenberg, chairman of the commission, said the new maps were drawn in eight “low-potential” districts that were very attractive because there were no participants living in them. Seven are in the Royal Household and one is in the Senate, he said.

Michael Li, senior consultant and border specialist at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said: “But drawing the right maps can be a challenge especially as color communities are increasingly moving to suburban areas. You must ensure fair representation in a world where people are not subdivided into regional size units. "

Re-nationalism has illuminated many ways in which "our politics should work for a mixed United States," Li said, adding that proposed legislation in the ANC, such as the John R. Lewis Voting Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, fueled debate over what that would look like