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In theory, the 2021 redistribution cycle involves revising district boundaries to evenly distribute Texas’ rapidly growing population and ensure fair representation of voters. But with the mapping in the hands of politicians and their individual electoral survival at stake, redistribution has also become an exercise in political rigging.
This fiscal year will officially begin Monday, when the Legislature meets for a special legislative session to redraw the state maps for the Texas Congress, House and Senate and the State Board of Education to hold. accounts for a decade of growth recorded in the 2020 census. The process will unfold through the drafting of behind-the-scenes maps, public hearings and debates over the maps that are supposed to go into effect for the 2022 election.
By choosing their constituents – instead of the other way around – Texas Republicans should be given full control over the process with enough freedom to produce cards that will maintain or even strengthen their majorities in the legislature and in the delegation. of the State Congress.
Here is how it will work.
Lawmakers need to consider where state growth has taken place
Most political constituencies need to be redesigned, regardless of any political motive.
The state’s population has grown dramatically – and unevenly – over the past decade, but districts are believed to be equal or, in the case of legislative districts, nearly equal in population. On the congressional front, Texas lawmakers also need to reconfigure the map to accommodate the two additional seats the state has won as a result of its growth.
Republicans seeking to assert their power currently hold 23 of the state’s 36 congressional districts, 82 of the state’s 150 seats in the state chamber, and 18 of the state’s 31 seats. But by controlling the redistribution of the state’s maps, they will have to face a demographic growth largely concentrated in areas where they are already a minority and among populations generally not in favor of their party.
Texans of color have made up 95% of the state’s population growth – roughly 4 million people – since 2010. About 1.9 million of those new residents are Hispanic. The growth of non-Hispanic White Texans has been so slow since 2010 that it has been easily overtaken by the total growth of Asian Texans, who make up a tiny fraction of the total population but have seen their numbers increase at the fastest rate in the world. ‘State. The state’s Asian population has grown by 613,092 since 2010; the white population increased by 187,252.
Of the state’s 4 million new residents, 44% live only in the state’s five major counties – Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis and Tarrant. The top four are decisively in the Democratic column while Tarrant barely retains his county-level Red status.
The fastest growth has been seen by suburbs in Texas, some of which have either followed large cities into the Democratic fold or leaned in that direction. The state’s 10 fastest growing counties over the past decade were suburbs, each growing by at least 32%. Hays County, between Austin and San Antonio, has experienced the fastest growing with a growth rate of 53%.
Meanwhile, more than half of the Red Counties that help build the Republican firewall in elections have lost population in the past decade. The other half have barely increased or lagged far behind in population growth compared to less rural counties.
The overall growth of Red Texas has been beaten by five suburban counties alone: ââCollin and Denton in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Fort Bend by Houston and Williamson and Hays near Austin. Over the past decade, these suburban counties have gained 1,033,634 new residents, which is 15,172 residents more than a decade of combined population growth in 215 strong red counties.
Statewide, districts owned by Democrats and Republicans have far exceeded their ideal size, while others are significantly underpopulated. But Republicans face complex decision-making if they are to expand their majority in the Statehouse and Congress while bolstering suburban neighborhoods that are among the most crowded – some in areas that have grown significantly due to the growth of people of color.
Underpopulated Republican districts in rural areas, for example, could grow in geographic size to accommodate more residents of surrounding red zones. Each of these expansions could have ripple effects as Republicans move to suburbs and urban areas where the numbers may be less favorable for them.
Unlike previous redistribution rounds, Republicans will have carte blanche to redraw and adopt state cards without having to first run them through the US Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, DC to ensure that ‘They don’t let voters of color say less by choosing who represents them in Austin and Washington.
This protection, known as preclearance, was removed by the United States Supreme Court in 2013. The last time the federal court in Washington refused to erase the state’s maps, it noted that the ‘case involved “more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space or need to address here.”
How lawmakers can manipulate district boundaries
Beyond the delineation of districts of equal size, legislators also generally rely on other principles of redistribution, such as the delineation of contiguous districts, respect for geographical boundaries such as city limits and the regrouping of âCommunities of interestâ that share political interests. Therefore, not all oddly shaped neighborhoods should automatically be considered dubious; communities are not built in neat forms.
But the process leaves enough room for political manipulation, or gerrymandering, which is usually carried out through two main tactics – cracking and packaging.
This, of course, would be a much more complex exercise in a real riding where the communities that support opposing parties are not so precisely divided. Lawmakers must also work across different categories of the population. Districts should be equal or nearly equal in total population. But only a subset of the population of each district is eligible to vote. And even though they use the 2020 census data to draw their constituencies, the number of eligible voters changes every day, so lawmakers can also consider how much of a vote cushion they need to ensure that ‘a constituency will continue to vote for a certain party for years to come.
In gerrymandering for political purposes, lawmakers also cannot discriminate against voters of color. It’s complicated in Texas, where race and ethnicity cannot be easily separated from political affiliation. Voters of color are more likely to support Democrats, and white voters tend to support Republicans, so boundaries drawn to supposedly benefit a party could end up reducing the electoral power of voters of color. This is called âvote dilutionâ, which is illegal.
It has been repeatedly found that Texas lawmakers crossed this line intentionally, tainting their cards by packing and breaking communities primarily on the basis of race and not political affiliation, in order to lessen their influence. In fact, state lawmakers have passed one or more redistribution plans that have been declared unconstitutional or in violation of voting rights law in every decade since 1970.
Certainly, race can be used as a guide when creating or maintaining so-called âdistricts of opportunityâ that uphold the voting rights law and strengthen the representation of voters of color. In a Hispanic Opportunity District, for example, Hispanic Texans would be the majority of eligible voters and would generally have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. (The neighborhood must meet other complex criteria as well.)
Texas lawmakers have also deliberately discriminated against voters of color on this front. In the first maps produced by lawmakers after the 2010 census, federal judges ruled that their use of race to configure certain districts in the name of adherence to voting rights law had instead “overthrown the VRA” because ‘they had deliberately used race to overcrowd the districts. in which Hispanic voters were already electing their preferred candidates.
How this manipulation results in an unbalanced representation
If Texas political maps were drawn in proportion to voter preferences, it would result in significantly different maps, especially among the state’s congressional delegation in which Republican representatives outnumber Democrats.
This is an imperfect measure because districts are drawn to be equal based on the total population, not the population eligible to vote. In addition, 33% of registered voters did not vote in the last presidential election. But it shows how the boundaries of the map can be drawn to tip the scales.
For example, the upcoming redistribution effort is likely to raise the stakes of this unbalanced representation as lawmakers figure out how to reconfigure the state’s congressional map to accommodate two additional districts.
With Hispanics behind half of the state’s population gain over the past decade, expect to see lobbying for at least one of these districts to be a Hispanic Opportunity District. But that district would probably elect a Democrat.
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