On June 3rd, the Census Bureau released a final tip sheet on how to find information on demographics in each state, geographic mobility, public education finances, and U.S. Capital Spending from 2000 to 2009. The Census Bureau is in the middle of releasing mountains of data—and this data is about to make it much easier for communities of interest to define themselves and speak up effectively in the redistricting process.
“Communities of interest” are groups of individuals who are likely to have similar legislative concerns and therefore would benefit from having representatives that would voice their cohesive interests. Currently, twenty-four states directly address communities of interest through state constitutions, statutes, and other guidelines outlined for redistricting bodies. And there are even more states where communities of interest have been considered as part of the redistricting process or court cases surrounding political representation.
If they’re recognized by line-drawers, these communities can be key to informing how the political maps get remade, but describing and defining them is a challenge. Whether or not such a community exists and where its boundaries lie are both not quite as cut-and-dried as other factors in redistricting, such as existing political and governmental boundaries or geographic compactness.
It is about to get easier though. The data the Census Bureau is releasing will help constituents, advocates, and legislatures work to keep communities of interest intact during the current redistricting cycle. As states work start drawing the lines throughout the summer and over the next year, the Census Bureau will be share information regarding demographics, ethnicity, gender, age, and various the economic breakdowns on counties and regions across the country. Having this breadth and depth of information available to individuals and organizations when they testify before redistricting authorities will help make it clear to line-drawers where communities of interest are located and how they want to be represented.
The Bureau will also release data that will contain demographic, economic, and governmental data on counties, and these will be useful when compiling comparisons between counties or when looking at the status of a single county. Data on children’s living arrangements, including extended family households, as well as a separate information that will track school enrollment levels for children three years old and older. Later in the summer there will be a release of data on economic indicators and county business patterns.
Courts have recognized social, cultural and racial/ethnic interests, economic/trade interests, geographic concerns, common communication and transportation networks, media markets, urban and rural responsibilities similar or related occupations, and lifestyles as part of the factors to consider when defining a community of interest.
As the Census releases more data, we’ll get a fuller picture. And members and leaders of all kinds of communities will be able to leverage this information to better inform the political line-drawers about their communities, and hopefully achieve better results for the next decade.