Political Representation | Episode 2

In this episode of the Affirmative Action podcast, we discuss the value of having elected leaders reflect the demographics of the constituents they serve and some of the barriers preventing more people of color from running.

I Voted stickers on white background
Courtesy: Element5 Digital

Think back to the fall of 2019 when there was a lot of discussion about how diverse the group of candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination was.

Several groups were represented: women, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ community. However, by March the field had narrowed to two white men: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Six months later, the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are two white guys, a typical situation for our nation.

One thing that is a break from tradition, is the nomination of Senator Kamala Harris as the Democrats’ pick for vice president. Harris is the first African-American, first Asian-American and third female vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket.

Although a person of color did not win the nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate, the race for the nomination did create space for conversation.

What does it mean to have elected leaders reflect the demographics of the constituents they serve? Have we made any progress nominating and electing more diverse candidates? If we want candidates to have more varied backgrounds than we’ve seen in the past, how do we change that? What are some of the barriers keeping diverse candidates from running?

These are some of the questions addressed by this episodes’ panel of guests which includes Najja K. Baptist, assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas; Irvin Camacho, a community organizer from Springdale and the Democratic candidate for District 89 State Representative in 2016; and Janine Parry, professor of political science at the University of Arkansas and director of the Arkansas Poll.

Headshot of episode panel speakers
Left to right: Najja K. Baptist; Irvin Camacho; Janine Parry

If you want to have an impact on what representation looks like in your community right now, there a few things you can do. First, the deadline to complete the 2020 Census is Sept. 30. The results of this survey, which is conducted once every ten years, determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives.

They’re also used to draw congressional and state legislative districts. The results of the Census also impact how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to more than 100 programs including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services and SNAP benefits. If you can take 5 minutes to fill out the census at My2020Census.Gov, you can help shape the future of your community for the next decade.

Second, if you want to vote in the General Election Nov. 3, the deadline to register to vote in Arkansas is Oct. 5. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has announced the COVID-19 pandemic is a valid excuse for voting absentee so if you’re concerned about voting in person this year, consider requesting an absentee ballot. If you need help registering to vote or requesting an absentee ballot, contact your county clerk’s office.

You can download a voter registration application and an absentee ballot application here.

You can find more information about statewide ballot issues here.

And here’s a list of candidates running for federal and state offices.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.