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Democracy’s Denominator: How Citizenship-based Redistricting Impacts Racial Minority Voters

For the past half century, congressional and state legislative districts in the U.S. have been drawn to equalize the total population of each district. But recently, legislators in several states with Republican-controlled legislatures have hinted at potentially changing the unit of apportionment to eligible citizen voters. This new approach has been empowered by the Trump administration’s recently-announced plans to report estimates of citizen and non-citizen population down to the census block level. Under this new approach, called citizen voting-age population (CVAP) equalization, legislative and congressional districts would be designed to equalize the number of adult citizens, rather than total population.

What would be the racial impact of these ongoing attempts to draw districts based on CVAP? In contemporary America, non-citizens consist mostly of racial and ethnic minorities. Conversely, adult citizens are a whiter and more Republican group than the American population as a whole. Therefore, if districts were drawn to equalize CVAP rather than total population, racial minorities could potentially be packed into a smaller number of legislative districts. This project aims to analyze the effects that such a shift would have on the electoral power of voters of color. By examining whether the electoral influence of racial minorities is reduced when districts are apportioned using CVAP, this project will provide insight into how this policy change could affect racial equality in legislative elections.

Jowei Chen, associate professor, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan