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In theory, the 2021 redistricting cycle seeks to review district boundaries to evenly distribute Texas ’fast-growing population and ensure voters have fair representation. But with the creation of maps in the hands of politicians and their individual electoral survival at stake, redistricting has also become an exercise in political mating.
This exercise will formally begin Monday, when the legislature is convened for a special legislative session to redraw the maps of the state for Congress, the Texas House and Senate and the State Board of Education to account for the growth of a decade recorded in the 2020 census. The process will take place in the drafting of maps of the back room and in hearings and public debates on maps destined to come into force for the 2022 elections.
By choosing their voters, rather than doing it the other way around, Texas Republicans will benefit from having complete control over the process with enough freedom to give maps that will maintain or even strengthen their majorities in the legislature and the delegation of the State Congress.
This is how it will work.
Lawmakers must consider where the growth of the state took place
Most political districts need to be redrawn, regardless of any political motive.
The state’s population has increased significantly – and unevenly – in the last decade, although districts are assumed to be equal or, in the case of legislative districts, almost equal in population. As for Congress, Texas lawmakers also need to reconfigure the map to incorporate the two additional seats the state won because of its growth.
Currently, Republicans who want to consolidate their power occupy 23 of the 36 districts of the State Congress, 82 of the 150 seats in the State House and 18 of the 31 seats in the state Senate. But to control the redrawing of state maps, they will have to fight population growth that is largely concentrated in areas where they are already a minority and among populations that do not generally favor their party.
Colored jeans accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth (nearly 4 million residents) since 2010. Approximately 1.9 million of these new residents are Hispanic. Growth among non-Hispanic white jeans has been so slow since 2010 that it was easily surpassed by the total growth of Asian jeans, which account for a small portion of the total population but have seen their numbers grow at the fastest rate. the state. The state’s Asian population has grown by 613,092 since 2010; the white population grew in 187,252.
Of the state’s 4 million new residents, 44% live in the five major counties of the state alone: Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis and Tarrant. The top four are decisive in the Democrat column, while Tarrant barely maintains his county-level red status.
The fastest growth was experienced by the suburbs of Texas, some of which have followed the big cities in the Democrat area or are leaning in that direction. The ten fastest-growing counties in the state in the last decade were suburbs, each growing by at least 32 percent. Hays County, between Austin and San Antonio, grew the fastest with a 53% growth rate.
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 barely grew or lagged behind in population growth compared to less rural counties.
The overall growth of red Texas was truncated by only five suburban counties: Collin and Denton in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Fort Bend in Houston and Williamson and Hays near Austin. In the last decade, these suburban counties gained 1,033,634 new residents, 15,172 residents more than the combined population growth of a decade in 215 solid red counties.
Across the state, Democratic and Republican districts have grown well above their ideal size, while others are significantly sparsely populated. But Republicans face complex decision-making if they want to expand their majorities in the state House and Congress, while propping up suburban districts that are among the most overcrowded, some in areas that grew significantly due to the growth of people of color.
Sparsely populated Republican districts in rural areas, for example, could grow in geographic size to accommodate more residents from the surrounding red zones. Each of these expansions could have effects as Republicans move to suburbs and urban areas where the numbers might be less favorable to them.
Unlike previous redistricting cycles, Republicans will have free rein to redraw and enact state maps without first having to address them by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, DC, to ensure that they do not leave color voters with less say when it comes to choosing who represents them in Austin and Washington.
This protection, known as prior authorization, was terminated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. The last time the Washington federal court refused to clear state maps, it noted that the case included “more evidence of discriminatory intent that we have, or need, to address here. “
How lawmakers can manipulate district boundaries
Beyond drawing districts of equal size, legislators also generally work outside of other principles of redistriction, such as drawing contiguous districts, respecting geographic boundaries such as city boundaries, and grouping “communities of interest” that share political interests. This is why not all oddly shaped districts should be considered automatically questionable; communities are not built in orderly ways.
But the process leaves enough room for political manipulation or maneuverability that is usually carried out using two main tactics: cracking and packaging.
This, of course, would be a much more complex exercise in a true county where communities that support opposing parties are not divided as accurately. Lawmakers also need to work across different population categories. The districts must be equal or almost equal in the total population. But only a subset of the population in each district is eligible to vote. And while they use 2020 census data to draw their districts, the number of eligible voters changes every day, so lawmakers can also consider the amount of ballot box they need to ensure a district continues to vote. for a particular party in the years to come.
In the case of political gains, lawmakers cannot discriminate against black voters either. This is complicated in Texas, where race and ethnicity cannot be easily separated from political affiliation. Black voters are more likely to support Democrats and white voters tend to support Republicans, so the limits set for supposedly benefiting a party could end up reducing the electoral power of black voters. This is called “vote dilution,” which is illegal.
It has been repeatedly found that Texas lawmakers have crossed this line intentionally, contaminating their maps by packing up and breaking up communities predominantly based on race, not political affiliation, to diminish their influence. In fact, state lawmakers have passed one or more redistricting plans that were declared unconstitutional or that violated the Voting Rights Act every decade since the 1970s.
Certainly, race can be used as a guide to create or maintain what are known as “districts of opportunity” that comply with the Voting Rights Act and increase the representation of black voters. In a Hispanic opportunity district, for example, Hispanic jeans should form the majority of eligible voters and generally have the opportunity to choose their preferred candidates. (The district must also meet other complex criteria).
Texas lawmakers have also intentionally discriminated against black voters on this front. In the first map legislators produced after the 2010 census, federal judges ruled that their use of race to set up some districts in the name of enforcing the Voting Rights Act, instead, “turned the VRA into the head “because they used the race intentionally to pack districts. in which Hispanic voters already chose their favorite candidates.
How this manipulation results in a misrepresentation
If Texas political maps were drawn in proportion to voter preferences, it would result in remarkably different maps, especially among the state congressional delegation in which Republican representatives significantly outnumber Democrats.
This is an imperfect measure, as the districts are equal based on the total population and 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 next redistricting effort is likely to increase the share of this unequal representation, as lawmakers will figure out how to reconfigure the state Congress map to take into account two additional districts.
With Hispanics behind half the state’s population gained in the last decade, expect to push 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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