Op-ed: Push back on voter suppression by adopting unity maps
SEIU 521 retirees who attended a fair elections kickoff with Working Partnerships USA in 2019. Photo courtesy of Alex Catsoulis.

    Our democracy works best when it reflects all our voices, no matter who we are, what we look like or how much money we have. Yet across the country we continue to see efforts to disenfranchise Black, Brown and Asian voters, and weaken the political voice of working people and tenants.

    Nearly 400 voter suppression bills have been introduced nationwide in recent months, making it more important than ever that we stand up for the rights of every voter to be heard. This year, we have the opportunity of a lifetime to fight back against voter suppression right here in San Jose and Santa Clara County.

    Every 10 years, U.S. Census data is used to redraw San Jose and Santa Clara County’s electoral district boundaries. The districts we draw this year will shape our lives and communities for the next decade. Instead of wealthy interests dictating how our lines get drawn, we should instead take action to right historical wrongs which have suppressed the collective voices of low-income communities of color.

    For example, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers and their families in Gilroy were among the hardest hit. But since they were positioned in a district dominated by voters in wealthier and whiter areas like Almaden Valley and Los Gatos for their representation on the county Board of Supervisors, the voices of these working families took longer to break through.

    That’s why we’ve come together with a coalition of local civil rights, labor and community-based organizations to recommend a new electoral district map known as the Unity Map. The Unity Map will help ensure all of our votes have equal weight, each of our voices equal stature and each of our communities equal resources—creating a more equitable and just city and county for our Black, Latinx, Asian and indigenous working class neighbors.

    The Unity Map was created together by the Asian Law Alliance, NAACP San Jose-Silicon Valley, the South Bay Labor Council, the Latino Leadership Alliance, the La Raza Roundtable de California, Silicon Valley Rising Action and many others to redraw our maps in a way that gives voters of color, renters and working families a more equal voice.

    Santa Clara County’s Unity Map redraws lines to keep communities connected, uniting Sunnyvale and keeping cities throughout the county and key communities of interest in San Jose like Berryessa, East and downtown San Jose. The Unity Map ensures the voices of our South County neighbors are not drowned out, by connecting them to similar diverse communities in Evergreen and Cambrian, while grouping Almaden Valley and Los Gatos with similar nearby West Valley neighbors.

    Parts of our region are growing rapidly, and our maps need to reflect that. San Jose’s Unity Map addresses this by creating two downtown districts.

    One to the east will retain the core landmarks of downtown including Mineta San Jose International Airport, City Hall and San Jose State, Naglee Park, Japantown, Northside and Washington Guadalupe neighborhoods. Another district will include the western edge of downtown and growing communities west of I-87. As a result, communities of color, which represent the overwhelming majority of our population, will have a more representative say in the future of our city.

    When we first introduced unity maps, people were startled that a multi-racial working class coalition actually came together to map out their own vision for a just and equitable Silicon Valley. Some folks even called it gerrymandering. Inversely, the maps introduced by private consultants and other interests have faced less public scrutiny, even though they radically suppress the voice of Latinx residents and other minority communities.

    For instance, one such map, known as the “Community Map,” decimates District 3’s Latinx population by 7.8 %, a radical change in the makeup of the downtown. We want to clear the air—unity maps are not for political gain; they’re simply preventing voter suppression and righting San Jose and Santa Clara County’s long history of wrongs like redlining and racial covenants that have given privileged communities a louder and stronger voice.

    But we can’t do this alone. San Jose and Santa Clara County lawmakers need to support fair electoral districts and adopt the Unity Map—so we can ensure every vote counts and strengthen the movement for racial and economic justice across our region.

    Lennies Gutierrez is president of the Latino Leadership Alliance. Richard Konda is executive director of the Asian Law Alliance. Bob Nuñez is president of the NAACP San Jose-Silicon Valley and co-chair of the La Raza Roundtable de California.

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