Wednesday, April 06, 2011

What Constitutes a Native for Determining Native Percentage of a District?

The US Voting Rights Act has so far proven to be the major force guiding the Alaska Redistricting Board's efforts.  There's good reason for this.  Most of the  prior Alaska redistricting plans have been legally challenged and the courts have required changes.  Furthermore, because an earlier challenge showed racial discrimination against Alaska Natives, Alaska is one of 16 states monitored by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act.

Staff Attorney Michael White's guidelines for the board say the act requires "no unavoidable retrogression."  (On March 22, Fund for Native American Rights senior staff attorney Natalie Landreth testified that it should be "no retrogression" without the unavoidable.  Later, while White accepted one of Landreth's corrections, he did not accept this one. )

This means, as I understand it, that Native voting strength should not be less than at the last redistricting.   This is measured by how many districts are  'minority-majority' and 'minority-influence.'  Minority-majority districts would have 50% or more Alaska Native population (not necessarily voters).  Minority-influence districts have at least 35% Alaska Native population. 

One of the issues that came up in Tuesday's discussion was whether the plans submitted by various organizations counted Natives the same way the board is counting someone Native.  I thought I was hearing people say 'Native plus one."  But today I heard someone say "Native plus white."  Maybe they used both or maybe my kids are right about my hearing.

This makes a difference.  If a group is using a more lenient definition of Native, then they would count more people as Native than a stricter definition.  Thus they might define a district as Native-Influence because it had, using their numbers, 36% Alaska Natives.  But the way the board is counting, the district might only have 34% Alaska Natives.

But I didn't quite understand what those different ways of counting were.  So I asked Michael White if he could explain it on this video. 

As you can see from the video, the issue is that so far the DOJ has counted, in the past, people identified as Native and people identified as "Native and White."
But NOT other combinations, such as "Native and Black" or "Native and Asian."

At the Wednesday (April 6) meeting, I believe that White told the Board that his understanding was that the Board could only count "Native" and "Native and White" but he's still seeking further clarification. And Chair Torgerson told the staff to find out how the groups that submitted plans to the Board counted someone as a Native. If they used a different way, then the data have to be adjusted to match the way the Board counted them.

And a followup to the question I had about what categories were used prior to 2010 in the video, a February 9, 2011 New York Times article on mixed race says that before the 2000 Census people could mark 'multiracial'.  This raised a myriad of problems. 
"[T]he census in 2000 began allowing respondents to mark as many races as they wanted. . ."

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