Group aims to make sure every black vote counts

Blacks must learn the ABCs of politics if they are to gain true political power in a system in which they are a minority, the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation say. The CBC Foundation is launching a campaign, called the Reapportionment and Redistricting Project, to teach blacks how to make their votes count. This project, designed and initiated by Gracia Hillman, the foundation's executive director, is scheduled to be a multiyear program seeking long-range results.

``This project is more important than the 1988 presidential election for black people and other minorities,'' Ms. Hillman says. She learned firsthand the power of the ballot as executive director of the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation. ``We have only 22 black representatives in the House with its 435 members and no senator in the US Senate,'' she says. ``Yet black people are 10 percent of the total population. Our need to know is obvious.''

The CBC Foundation campaign, she says, will try to make sure that every black is counted in the 1990 census. Every minority voter should check the reapportionment that results - at the local, state, and congressional levels.

To implement its plan, the foundation has formed a coalition with several groups - the Southern Regional Council, Joint Center for Political Studies, Lawyers for Civil Rights, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. They are coordinating watchdog committees across America to ensure a more accurate count of blacks.

``We can't afford to lose a single potential black voter, or a potential black lawmaker from city and county councils'' to Congress, Hillman says. ``Our goal is to educate black voters in particular on how to be sure we get proper representation in our government.''

In Mississippi black people can't wait until 1990 to start thinking about the census, says Rep. Mike Espy (D) of Mississippi.

``As a Southern state we stand to gain at least one new seat in the House,'' he says. ``We already have a number of counties and towns with more blacks than whites ... but no representation. ... Often this is because we are not counted, and whites are. My advice is that more blacks become census takers. Then we can make sure black people are counted.''

Northern urban centers, where most blacks outside the South live, are expected to lose population and representation in Congress and state legislatures, acorrding to Mr. Espy. ``We black congressmen and black people back home must be vigilant not only in reference to the census count, but also to how state legislatures reapportion congressional districts,'' he adds. ``Some of us representatives could lose our seats just by being geographically gerrymandered.''

The growth of the Congressional Black Caucus lies in marginal districts, he says. ``We must corral our strength in areas where we are at least 40 percent of the population,'' Espy says. ``Or we could lose our seats, if black people decide not to vote in November.''

Rep. Mervin Dymally (D) of California, chairman of the Black Caucus, is concentrating his efforts on preventing an undercount. He has also introduced a bill to make reapportionment palatable to minorities as well as to whites.

The Census Bureau is conducting its own ``Complete Count Program,'' designed to involve local government and community participation.

The Census Bureau also has its own ``Redistricting Data Program,'' designed to provide legislatures with ``small area census population totals for legislative redistricting.''

Census figures show black voters are narrowing the gap between them and white voters at the polls, says Hillman. Quoting from a Census Bureau report she noted that for the first time a larger percentage of young blacks (46 percent), 18 to 24, voted in 1986 than did young whites (42 percent). Overall more whites (47 percent) voted in 1986 than blacks (42 percent). Black turnout is increasing, however, as white turnout is decreasing slightly.

Blacks need not fear answering questions in the 1990 census, Hillman says. Title 13 of the United States Code mandates confidentiality. Census Bureau employees take an oath to keep answers confidential. Census information is not available to welfare agencies, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Internal Revenue Service, courts, police, or the military. The bureau does not list social security numbers.

``It will be our job to utilize census publications and figures and studies by the Joint Center and similar agencies if we want to assure proper black representation in government,'' Hillman says of the CBC Foundation initiative.

``And we must also be alert to the accuracy of publicized information about blacks based on census figures. And we can learn best by working in the 1990 census,'' she says.

The Census Bureau will employ about 470,000 people working through 449 field offices, 12 regional census centers, and 11 processing offices. April 1, 1990 will be the official census day.

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