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Will LA County's Latinos get more political clout, one way or another?

A color-coded ethnicity map of the Los Angeles area, based on census data
A color-coded ethnicity map of the Los Angeles area, based on census data
Art by Eric Fischer/Flickr (Creative Commons)

UPDATE: Los Angeles County Supervisors have voted down the plans 4 to 1 that would create a second Latino-majority district, so it's likely the matter will now go to court. 

Will Latinos in Los Angeles County wake up tomorrow with greater political representation via a new Latino-majority supervisorial district? It seems unlikely as the county Board of Supervisors votes tonight, and a court battle may be in order. But there have been substantial fireworks in getting to this point, and there will be more.

At issue is whether the county, which is nearly 50 percent Latino, should have a second Latino-majority district in addition to the one represented by county Supervisor Gloria Molina. She is the only Latino member of the five-member County Board of Supervisors. She and Latino advocacy groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) have long held that the county's Latino residents are grossly underrepresented.

The board is voting tonight on whether to adopt one of three plans, two of which would create a new Latino-majority district, and one which would more or less maintain the status quo; Molina and MALDEF have maintained that if left as is, the boundaries fly in the face of the federal Voting Rights Act, intended to protect the voting rights of minorities. A four-member "supermajority" vote will be needed, otherwise the issue goes to court.

Meanwhile, close to a thousand people have shown up today for the board meeting at the Los Angeles Hall of Administration - not something that typically happens at county board meetings.

In recent days there have been several good explanations of the redrawn boundaries, the vote and what it represents for Latinos, including these:

The LA Weekly had a three-part "redistricting without maps" series that explains the controversy with a dose of cheeky humor, replete with cartoons and some handy pie charts illustrating quite clearly how the ethnic-racial makeup of the Board of Supervisors differs radically from that of the county's population. There was another post explaining the politics involve via Venn Diagrams, and final installment asking, "Do People Vote Based on Race?" From the first piece:

What seems clear enough is that Latinos will get a second seat at some point -- if not now then certainly in 10 years. Want proof? Check out what happens when you compare the Board's current racial composition to the county's total population -- including children and non-citizens. Figure that in 10 years most of those children will be of voting age, and you can see that there won't be three white seats on the Board forever.

The Los Angeles Times continues to post updates and has had several good pieces explaining the battle, including these two maps illustrating Molina's plan (which would carve up the district held by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky) and a competing plan that would keep things much as they are. The Times has supported redistricting in its opinion pages, including in this piece today:
Ultimately, the county's new supervisorial boundaries will most likely be determined by a federal judge, just as they were in 1990. The court will have to decide whether "racially polarized" voting exists in the county and whether Latinos' voting strength has been illegally diluted, preventing them from electing candidates of their choosing. If the court agrees with MALDEF, Molina and Ridley-Thomas that racially polarized voting and other problems exist, then the Voting Rights Act would require that a second Latino seat be created that is both compact and contiguous.

And Public CEO published an analysis from Republican political consultant Max Rexroad, who provided his take on the politics of the redistricting battle:
Los Angeles County according to the 2010 census has almost 10 million people of which 47.7% are Latino.  Meanwhile the African American population is at 8.7%.  Yet the Board of Supervisors has traditionally had and continues to have one African American seat (Ridley-Thomas), one Republican seat (Antonovich), one squishy Republican coastal seat (Knabe), one Jewish seat (Yaroslavsky) and just one Latino seat (Molina).

So what is the problem?  With five seats it would make sense that the Latino community would be able to have a good shot at two of them.  So if that happens who loses?  Options are Republicans, white Jewish Democrats, or African Americans and none of them want to budge.

Some Asian American groups, meanwhile, have been pushing to maintain the boundary lines as they are, fearing redrawn lines could compromise their own political clout. MALDEF has already declared it will sue if a second Latino-majority district is not created.

It would not be the first time the boundaries in Los Angeles County have been decided by the courts. In a landmark court decision in 1990, a federal ruled that Los Angeles County supervisors had purposely gerrymandered their districts to exclude Latino voters.