Stage ready to redistribute the struggle, as Texas adds 4 million people to the census count

When the U.S. Census Bureau released its decade-long statistics on the country’s population last week, it marked the first step in what will likely be a long and extensive battle between lawmakers and voters over how to they will distribute the state and federal constituencies. Texas and around the country.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have long used the redistricting process (which occurs every 10 years and uses census data as a basis) to draw convoluted and tangled districts that favor them politically and increase their chances. of remaining in office, a practice called “gerrymandering.”

Although the Voting Rights Act of 1965 explicitly prohibits discriminatory voting practices, redistriction often falls on racial lines, as people of color are more likely to vote Democrats. In a state like Texas, where Republicans control the state House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office, that means black and brown residents are switching to the polls, advocates say.

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“Redistriction goes hand in hand with gerrymandering in this state, specifically racial gerrymandering where some of the worst lines are drawn to dilute the voting power of people of color,” said Miguel Rivera, coordinator of outreach voting rights. for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The last time the Republican-led state legislature redrawed political maps, after the 2010 census, it began a wave of demands from Democrats and advocacy groups that lasted three election cycles. The U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that the fact that fictitious parties were out of the reach of its authority and upheld the practice as long as it was not done explicitly based on race.

“For someone who can file a lawsuit, the problem proves it [race] it was the reason for drawing the lines, “said Texas Demographer Lloyd Potter.” It becomes quite ambiguous between party-based and racial celebrations, because minority status tends to align by party. “

Federal redistribution laws are loose enough that the only applicable criterion is that each district has approximately the same number of people. Nationally, Texas, which won two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census, will divide its population of 29,145,505 among the 38 districts assigned to it to create districts of about 766,987 people. each.

Lax restrictions on gerrymandering allow lawmakers to essentially choose their components, meaning some voters may have their voices drowned out by residents of communities that bear no resemblance to theirs, even though they share a representative. It also leaves little incentive for a representative to listen to the concerns of some voters, if the majority of their blog lives entirely in another community and may have different agendas.

“[A fair redistricting process] it’s never been defined, and that’s where the whole maneuverability process comes from, because no one said “You can’t do this,” Potter said.

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“It’s not just in Texas, it’s happening everywhere and if Democrats were in power they would do the same,” Potter said. “From the perspective of objective representation, it’s a bit inconsistent … with the democratic principles of real representation and civil discourse.”

This time, in Texas, the stakes are even higher, advocates say, as the state is no longer subject to civil rights-era restrictions that forced federal officials to sign the newly drawn maps. The restrictions had been in place for Texas and other states with segregationist steps since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965, and were only lifted in 2013 after the Supreme Court ruled the permit requirements unconstitutional.

“Without the protection of the Voting Rights Act, we know we are entering a process that Texas has historically armed against communities of color, but this time without such important federal protections,” Rivera said.

As people of color drive Texas ’growth, which accounts for 95% of the approximately 4 million new residents the state added in the last decade, advocates say there are ways to review the redistricting process. to more accurately reflect demographic change.

An independent citizen redistricting commission, for example, could take the redistricting process out of the hands of legislators and entrust it to a bipartisan civilian working group. Several states and municipalities across the country, including Austin, have already taken these steps.

“We have been working for a long time to achieve these common sense political solutions. We’ve been trying for a long time to get the independent citizen redistricting committee approved, ”said Stephanie Gómez, associate director of Common Cause Texas. Mary González, D-El Paso, introduced a bill this past session and it went nowhere because, for people who currently have power, it does not serve their interest to form an independent commission. “

State records show that Gonzalez’s bill was pending in the House Redistricting Committee in April.

“We always say redistricting is democracy in action, and as you see in Texas, power-hungry politicians draw constituency maps that benefit their interests, rather than allowing each community to have a chance to share their lived experience, “Gomez said.

“You look at the racial demographics of the Texas legislature and it doesn’t reflect the composition of white, latinx, black, asian and other jeans. Redistriction works best when mapmakers draw districts in a transparent, fair, and inclusive process that prioritizes communities that have historically been left out of the process, ”Gomez said.

In Texas, Latinos make up 40% of the state’s population, according to census data, but only 25% of the legislature, according to the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus.

“We call on the best angels of our colleagues in the legislature to embrace diversity as a force and commit to drawing electoral maps that are representative of our great state. Together, we can make real the promise of democracy for all of us.” , said state Representative Rafael Anchía, chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and member of the House Redistribution Committee.

Texas Republicans did not respond to a request for comment on allegations that the redistricting process diminishes the voting power of black and brown residents.

“We hope that the redistricting will be complete this year. We also expect each State House district to have approximately 194,000 people, Senate districts to have 940,000 people, and Congressional districts to have 767,000 people. We know for sure that there will be 150 districts of the State House, 31 districts of the State Senate and 38 districts of the Congress ”, said in a communiqué Matt Rinaldi, president of the Republican Party of Texas.