The Fantasy of the Hispanic Voting Bloc in Florida and Its Implications on Redistricting

All across the country for the last few years, whenever politicians or the media talk about minority groups, they talk about the “Hispanic Vote,” lumping all Hispanic voters into a single group. But this statement is problematic for the United States, particularly in a state like Florida, in the context of redistricting, because Hispanic voters are not like other minority voters. Unlike black voters, Hispanic citizens, despite their shared language, are not one single homogenous block of voters. They come from different countries, have different cultures, and identify as different races. In fact, certain groups of Hispanics from some countries share strong animosity against groups of Hispanics from other countries. These differences, reflected in some Hispanic voting patterns, make it difficult for state legislatures to comply with the Voting Right Act when drawing district lines, but it can make it even more difficult for Hispanic plaintiffs to challenge districts because of the case law enunciated in Thornburg v. Gingles (1986). Gingles requires that a plaintiff challenging a state for violating §2 of the Voting Rights Act must prove that a minority is sufficiently large, politically cohesive, and that the majority votes as a block against the minority to prove vote dilution.

In a state like Florida, mixed Hispanic cultures complicate matters when the state legislature tries to draw majority-minority districts that comply with the Voting Rights Act or when plaintiffs try to challenge said districts. That is because, in Florida, the largest groups of Hispanics are made up of Cubans and Puerto Ricans. Both groups come from Spanish-speaking islands in the Caribbean, but politicians would be mistaken to try lumping these two groups together. Politicians must understand the two groups’ cultural and historical idiosyncrasies to appreciate how they vote and why they don’t vote together. Cuban Americans, unlike most Hispanics, consistently vote Republican, while the majority of Hispanic voters, including Puerto Ricans, tend to be Democratic. This trend demonstrates that a single Hispanic minority district may not work for Hispanic Floridians like it does for black voters or even Hispanic voters in other states. Also, to confuse matters further, some Hispanic Democrats hold conservative values that do not align with most other members of the party, which could make drawing districts even more complicated when thinking about the previously mentioned Gingles test.

What does all this information mean for redistricting, the parties and, more importantly, for the voters? It means that both parties in the Florida legislature may need to seriously reconsider their strategies state when drawing district maps, and, more broadly, it means that the parties may need to rethink the effect that Hispanics could bring about in the nationwide majority-minority district scheme. If they do not, they may risk alienating some minority groups in the name of the Voting Rights Act, or accidently violating the Act itself.

However, in Florida, the facts may be changing to some extent. A new study by Pew Research Center, in 2014, found that Cubans are starting to shy away from the Republican Party, and more are identifying as Democrats, which could have large implications for Florida in the next round of state redistricting. If Hispanics political interests align, it would certainly alleviate much of the current difficulties facing the Florida legislature when it comes to redistricting. But regardless of what the future holds in Florida, Hispanic population growth rates outnumber all other groups in the U.S., and when politicians have make tough decision about issues such as redrawing Hispanic minority-majority districts, they will have to acknowledge the fact that Hispanics are not a monolithic block like other historic minorities.

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