Demographic Influences on Latinos' Political Empowerment

Comparative Local Illustrations

Published in: Population Research and Policy Review, v. 17, no. 3, 1998, p. 223-246

by Peter A. Morrison

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How do Latinos gain local political power, given their demographic proportions and characteristics in a community's population? This paper examines the influences of population structure, socioeconomic factors, and residential patterns on the process by which Latinos have translated their numbers into an effective political presence in five California cities. The distinctive routes to empowerment evidenced in these cities reveal the varied possibilities local demographic settings may offer and the sensitivity of different election systems to those settings. Two alternatives are considered: (1) a change from election at large to election by single-member district, or (2) augmentation of Latinos' citywide voting strength in deciding the second- or third-place winner in a multi-member at-large election format. The findings can inform local districting efforts planned around the 2000 census. Their implications extend more broadly to courts applying laws intended to safeguard minority voting rights; and to public policies aimed at balancing interests that unify a community and those that may divide its members.

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