Latino community members are divided about how the maps for the 8th and 9th state Assembly districts on the south side should be redrawn.
A map drawn by the Republican majority divided the 8th and 9th Districts down Cesar Chavez Drive. Republicans argued that by drawing the districts this way, Latinos might become the majority in both districts during the next 10 years. District boundaries are redrawn every 10 years, after the U.S. Census.
However, some community members are concerned that the proposed map would decrease the power of the Latino vote and ultimately lead to reduced representation in the legislature.
Voces de la Frontera one of the leading immigrant rights groups in Wisconsin, and a group of Democrats brought a lawsuit against the Government Accountability Board, which is in charge of implementing the new districts.
Voces said that the maps violated the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices. The group argued that by changing the 8th District boundaries, the new map would lessen the power of the Latino vote, making the redistricting unlawful.
The 8th District has been represented by a Latino representative since 1998, when Pedro Colon was elected.
“We need to ensure that we don’t lose representation of the Latino community. Our goal is to ensure at the very least we don’t go backwards,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces.
A panel of three federal judges agreed with Voces, ruling that the Republican-drawn 8th and 9th redistricting maps were unlawful and violated the rights of Latinos.
JoCasta Zamarripa, 8th District representative since 2010, has been an advocate for Latinos, having fought to allow undocumented students to apply for legal residency and receive in-state tuition, and fighting against the Voter ID law, saying that it discriminated against Latinos.
Zamarripa agrees with Voces that the redistricting lines hurt Latino voting power.
“We should be a super majority district, but instead, they [Republicans] put me at risk and the 8th assembly district at risk of not having a Latino representative,” Zamarripa said.
“Nobody right now is standing up for us in the legislature except for me. I need to be a voice in the Latino community,” she continued.
Aaron Rodriguez, a writer for The Hispanic Conservative of Wisconsin, supports the proposed redistricting. Rodriguez explained that although the power of the Latino vote may be reduced in this year’s election, the focus should be on the full 10 years.
He argued that if more Latinos could be convinced to vote, they might be able to elect two representatives under the Republican-drawn map.
“Why are we [Latinos] experiencing explosive growth in Wisconsin and we only have one representative?” Rodriguez asked. Answering his own question, he said, “Most of the community has been asleep at the wheel and the average Hispanic doesn’t vote.”
Rodriguez said that the solution is to raise awareness among Latinos about the importance of voting.
“Instead of thinking, ‘Hispanics don’t come out to vote,’ one of the things we have to do is change the thinking of our culture,” Rodriguez explained.
Some Latino residents are not convinced that the culture can change.
“It doesn’t matter how much we squawk,” said Ernesto Ramirez, a Latino living in the current 8th district. “It’s like anything. People that were involved in civil rights … we don’t like it but the newcomers—they don’t care. They are only interested in themselves,” he said.
Ramirez said that although the Latino population is growing in the district, many are ineligible to vote because they are not citizens. He added that the only way Latinos can get something done is if Democrats are a majority in the state assembly.
“I’ve been involved in politics for the last 40 years. I’m realistic. Right now, they [Republicans] are the majority and that’s how it is,” Ramirez noted.
Judges recently ruled that the plaintiff and defendant in the lawsuit should work together on the maps and find a solution about where the centerline should be drawn. If the two parties are unable to agree, the courts will look at the proposed maps and determine the border.
Zamarripa said that she would be “dismayed and disappointed” if no agreement was reached and the judges had to make the final decision.
“In this case, because of the even split in the senate, it would be better if the judges made the decision,” he said.
The federal panel is expected to decide soon how the 8th and 9th district maps should be drawn. However, the U.S Supreme Court may have the final say if the General Accounting Board appeals the decision.