In a recent article, we had discussed and analyzed the recently revised redistricting plan for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, given that they chose to shrink its size from 11 to 9 members. This redistricting plan was drawn with five white and four black majority districts, according to 2010 Census data. What this plan failed to consider, however, is that black turnout typically lags white turnout. In other words, black voting strength does not usually match the (theoretical) Census numbers.
This electoral reality was most apparent in the drawing of District 5, which is an inner city district that was expanded east to include affluent neighborhoods like Bocage, Old Goodwood, and Hundred Oaks. In doing so, a district was created that had a black majority – only on paper. According to the documentation provided by those preparing the redistricting map, it showed that this district had a 55-42% black majority from a Census population perspective, while its “VAP” (voting aged population, which is a theoretical measure of black voter registration) was only 51-46%.
A voting age population that is 51-46% black is not one guaranteed to elect a black candidate, because you typically have turnout disparities between white and black voters. And when you couple that turnout disparity with a 51% theoretical black voting majority (we’re saying “theoretical”, because not all those 18 or over are registered to vote), you have a district with a white voting plurality/majority. Which in fact is what happened in District 5: when JMCEL examined the racial breakdown of those who actually voted between 2004 and 2012, District 5 has had at best a 47% black voting minority (when Barack Obama was on the ballot), while in the last midterm election, only 41% of the district’s voters were black.
Why does this matter? The East Baton Rouge School District (basically, East Baton Rouge Parish minus carve-outs for the Baker, Zachary, and Central school districts) is 48-47% black by population, 51-44% white by voting age population, and 49-46% white by voter registration. The plan drawn contained 5 white majority and 4 black majority districts, which in itself is an appropriate ratio. However, given the fact that one of those four black districts does not have a black voting majority, a case can be made that blacks are only assured of winning 3 out of 9 districts. And if blacks are only assured of winning 1/3 of the districts in a school district with a 47% black Census population, a 44% black voting age population, and 46% black voter registration, it can be argued that this plan dilutes minority voting strength, and in fact, with qualifying for these seats less than two weeks away, the threat of litigation is a very real one .
Fortunately, JMC has drawn an alternative School Board plan that closely adheres to the demography of the East Baton Rouge school system. Five districts were drawn with a white majority, and four districts were drawn with at least a 76% black majority. Below is the alternative redistricting plan, with the appropriate political data.