Change in demographics affecting local elections

October 21, 2011 4:03:30 PM PDT
In less than three weeks, voters head to the polls to help decide a number of races and as our city has changed over the years, now more than ever, you will see the transformation reflected on the ballot.

Consider that in 1970, there were roughly 70,000 Hispanics in the Houston area. That number is an estimated 1.4 million today -- significantly changing the way Houston and Harris County vote on Election Day.

Near the corner of Shepherd and West Gray, Stefano Zullian and his wife came to Houston from Venezuela to open a gourmet chocolate shop.

"Houston was a great opportunity," said Zullian, who owns Araya Artisan Chocolates.

They chose Houston for their business because they knew it provided exactly what they wanted.

"The diversity here in Houston gives us a chance to speak with people that come from many parts of the world," said Zullian.

He represents the shift in Houston's population which is now 40 percent Hispanic.

"We're a city of minorities," said KTRK Political Analyst Dr. Richard Murray. "We really don't have any dominant majority any more."

And that translates into city government where there are two new council districts aimed at better representing minority communities. But it's not just a growth in Hispanic voters. The Asian population has grown such that Chinese -- along with Spanish, Vietnamese, and English -- will soon be printed on the ballot. That means additional Chinese fluent staff and the translation of more than 200 forms. It won't happen in time for this election, but hopefully in time for 2012.

"We've got a lot to do to pull this off by next year's elections," said Harris Co. District Clerk Stan Stanart. "There's a whole lot of infrastructure that has to be put in place."

The key now is for those Houstonians transplanted or otherwise to vote. Or all the demographic change in the world won't matter. Maybe if a piece of Zullian's chocolate were given out at the polls, that would help.

"The minute that we opened the door to the public, people were excited that we were here," Zullian said.

In Houston's 11 single-member City Council districts, five are now majority Hispanic, three are majority black and three are majority white.

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