Voting Issues Briefing: Redistricting and Asian-Americans

As has been well documented (see Pew Research Center among others), Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S., nearly doubling to 22.4 million between 2000 and 2019, and projected to surpass 46 million by 2060. The Asian American population comprises many diverse groups, with Chinese Americans being the largest group followed by Indian Americans, Filipino Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Korean Americans and Japanese Americans, this group of six ethnicities comprises 85% of all Asian Americans. Aside from Hawai’i (with 57% of its total population identifying as Asian American), California, Washington, New York, New Jersey and Nevada have the largest overall populations of Asian Americans.

As expected from these demographic trends, the growth in Asian American populations has seen the drive for political representation at the community level, including in redistricting.

In California, Korean Americans in Los Angeles have looked to consolidate political representation, including fighting against previous gerrymandering processes and aiming to unite the entire community of Koreatown into a single, unified district. Koreatown also has a large Latino population and grassroots organizers built a consolidated campaign with Latino, Pacific Islander, Jewish and Black voters working as a coalition in support of one district (as opposed to the current four). In December, the Los Angeles City Council voted 13-0 to provide a single district for Koreatown.

Another large grassroots initiative in California saw Asian Americans in the West San Gabriel Valley unite to protest proposed redistricting that would remove several key cities in the region into a predominantly Latino district.  These communities are part of the area represented in Congress by Rep. Judy Chu.  Grassroots advocacy on behalf of the Asian American community in West San Gabriel was considered and accepted by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, the independent, non-Legislature commission tasked with developing the updated redistricting maps. The new redistricting maps reflect the changes in population in California, including two majority Asian American districts, plus 16 districts where Asian Americans make up more than 30% of eligible votes, so-called ‘influence districts.’ Democrats will continue to outnumber Republicans by 2-1 unless there is a major change in voter behavior, but the bi-partisan Commission’s approach has been representative and inclusive of both parties and most importantly is reflective of the communities they represent.

In New York, advocacy by civil rights organizations successfully sought to keep the Asian American community in Queens, represented by Grace Meng, intact within Congressional District 6. Asian Americans of voting age make up nearly 50% of the district’s population.

Another district with a high Asian American population was added in Brooklyn. These redistricting changes are important to the ones drawn a decade ago by Republicans, and have united ethnic groups to some extent, but there are still missed opportunities according to community members. The new redistricting map is not without criticism by legal and political experts citing heavy-handed gerrymandering by the Democrats, and Republicans are now challenging the map in court under new anti-gerrymandering provisions in New York’s Constitution.