Politics & Elections

Second Redistricting Commission meeting deals with racial data

The Census asks two questions related to race: Are you Hispanic? and What is your race? The Census does not consider “Hispanic” to be a race. Complicating things is the fact that people have the option to check off more than one box when identifying themselves by race. This has the odd effect of allowing tallies that may exceed 100% because people of two races will be counted once in two separate categories.
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Published on September 17, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

The second meeting of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Commission on Redistricting concerned a review of racial data, a review of the United States Census database in use, and a short discussion of the redistricting mapping system. Kimball Brace, who has consulted on the last three redistricting efforts in the state gave a lengthy explanation of how the Census Bureau determines racial data, and how that racial data could be used to keep any redistricting within the bounds of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

UpriseRI live tweeted the meeting here.

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I’ll do my best to get at the main points of how racial data is determined, without getting bogged down in the mathematics of it, which is explained at length in Kimball Brace’s presentation to the Commission in the video below, starting at the 28 minute mark.

The Census asks two questions related to race: Are you Hispanic? and What is your race? The Census does not consider “Hispanic” to be a race. Complicating things is the fact that people have the option to check off more than one box when identifying themselves by race. This has the odd effect of allowing tallies that may exceed 100% because people of two races will be counted once in two separate categories.

Population has shifted in Rhode Island and that means, geographically speaking, Senate and House districts in the southern part of the state will grow, and districts in the north will shrink. The Town of Narragansett lost population for instance, while northern Rhode Island gained.

There was some speculation that population loss in Narragansett is related to Covid caused undercounts of University of Rhode Island (URI) students not bing in their dorms, but as was quickly pointed out, URI is located in South Kingstown, and that area did not show much population change. Galen Euer, giving public testimony, noted that the Census counts campus students by simply requesting a list from the school’s administration, but that the Census does do outreach to off campus students.

Another possible explanation for the loss of population in Narragansett may be that people bought up property during the pandemic to isolate themselves in remote areas better. These now being summer homes, no one was at these residences when the Census takers knocked in April.

Galen Auer, speaking on behalf of ARISE (Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education) was the only person to present public comment.

Auer brought real insight to Kimball Brace’s explanation about race and Hispanic ethnicity when they pointed out that “someone isn’t less Black because they’re also Hispanic…

“People’s identities are intersectional, and their experiences are intersectional… Taking people out of all the other race categories and simply counting them as Hispanic is not reflective of their actual experiences or identities,” said Auer.

Despite the United States Census not counting Hispanic as a race, here in Rhode Island and nationally people would often check the box for “some other race” and then write in “Latino” or “Hispanic” said Auer. So the Census may not think Hispanic is. race, but clearly not insignificant portion of the Hispanic and Latino community think they are.

Auer’s final point concerned the “catchall” category of “Asian” as a racial descriptor. Asian can refer to Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese or other Asian. These are, said Euer, “distinct groups of people who often experience dramatically different socioeconomic status, educational outcomes and immigrant experiences.”

The 3rd meeting of the Redistricting Commission will be Thursday, September 23 at 4p in room 313 of the Rhode Island State House. After that, meetings will go on the road, with opportunities for public comment in five communities throughout the state. Dates to be announced.

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