Due to unforeseen scheduling developments, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) has canceled the Disability Policy Academy titled, ‘The Disability Count: Census Results and the Impact of Redistricting on People with DD,’ which was scheduled for this Thursday, Oct. 7. In lieu of the academy, and as a special edition of our Texas Legislative News, TCDD has provided this explainer on the redistricting process.
Special Update on Redistricting
Following the results of the U.S. Census, which happens every 10 years, states and local entities use population data to draw new maps for electoral districts. This process, called “redistricting,” can occasionally lead to big changes in representation as populations grow in some regions and decline in others.
As a special edition of our Texas Legislative News, we’re providing an explainer on the redistricting process. This explainer covers the proposed Texas redistricting maps, gerrymandering, the federal Voting Rights Act, independent redistricting commissions, and how all of this could impact the 2022 primary elections.
The Texas Legislature is responsible for drawing district maps for the Texas House, the Texas Senate, the State Board of Education, and Texas seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lawmakers typically begin considering district maps during the first regular legislative session following a census year. The process sometimes continues into a special session.
The process started a bit later this year due to pandemic-related delays in census data. But Gov. Greg Abbott included the topic in his call for the Legislature’s third special session, which began on Sept. 20. Lawmakers are expected to approve new district maps by the end of this special session on Oct. 19, or in a successive special session following closely on its heels.
The Texas Maps
As with any bill considered by Texas lawmakers, each proposed map can be viewed on the Capitol website. The bill webpages include links to interactive maps where you can see street-level data on proposed boundaries. By going to the bill history on these links, you can also find at what stage the maps are in the legislative process.
The respective bills are as follows:
The main committees drafting the proposals are the House Redistricting Committee
and the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting
. Hearings have already taken place on some of the maps, with hearings on the others yet to come. In some instances, the committees have required witnesses to register before providing testimony. The final maps must be approved by both chambers and the governor.
Ideally, redistricting is a standard process used to help safeguard the concept of “one person, one vote.” District lines are redrawn to account for population shifts and to craft electoral districts that have roughly the same number of people. Additionally, lines are typically attentive to city and county borders, maintaining compact districts, and keeping together “communities of interest.” These factors are means of recognizing that people with shared concerns might benefit from having the same representation. This has been particularly important for racial and ethnic minorities or other groups that have been historically left out of the political process.
Redistricting has also been used by political parties to solidify their control over a state by drafting lines that create an electoral advantage for the parties’ candidates. This practice is called “gerrymandering,” and it can sometimes result in oddly shaped districts that manipulate communities of interest in a manner that essentially guarantees an electoral outcome before candidates have been announced or a single vote has been cast.
Three of the primary tools for gerrymandering are known as “stacking,” “cracking,” and “packing.”
Stacking consists of taking communities of voters who have lower incomes and less formal education — groups which historically have been minority communities — then combining them to create a perceived voting majority. Then, those communities are placed in districts with voters who have higher incomes and more formal education — which historically have been from white communities — that typically turn out to vote in greater numbers.
Cracking disperses a group of minority voters into several districts to prevent them from reaching a majority.
Packing combines as many (usually minority) voters as possible into one district to prevent them from affecting elections in other districts.
The Federal Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act, signed into law in 1965, prohibits racial discrimination in voting and has also been used as a barrier to extreme forms of gerrymandering. Within the past few years, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has weakened the enforcement of the law, most notably by eliminating a process called “pre-clearance.” In this process, states with a history of discrimination were required to have any changes to their voting processes reviewed to make sure the changes did not discriminate against protected minorities.
Efforts in Congress to address the court’s issues and bolster the Voting Rights Act been unsuccessful, although right now there is high-profile voting legislation that has passed the U.S. House and awaits consideration in the U.S. Senate.
There have been past instances where federal courts have found Texas districts to violate the Voting Rights Act. In some cases, courts or the Legislature have redrawn district lines to comply with the law.
Whether that will happen following this redistricting cycle is unclear, particularly in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s rulings. But critics have raised objections to the proposed maps under consideration.
The concerns primarily relate to patterns in the state’s population growth, and how the representation anticipated by the proposed new district boundaries don’t reflect those patterns. Critics point out that 95% of Texas’ population growth over the past 10 years came from people of color, but the new maps reduce the number of districts where Black and Hispanic voters are the majority.
Independent Redistricting Commissions
Some states and local jurisdictions have approved independent redistricting commissions to draw new electoral maps. This has been done to take some of the politics out of redistricting and to push back against the idea of elected officials picking their voters, rather than voters picking their elected officials. These commissions, which are generally nonpartisan or bipartisan, are designed to take the process out of the hands of lawmakers to better ensure fair representation.
Texas has seen several bills filed to establish an independent redistricting commission, or even to put the concept up to voters, but no legislation has made it further than a committee hearing.
One ongoing lawsuit in Texas questions the existing Legislature’s ability to conduct a redistricting process. Sens. Sarah Eckhardt and Roland Gutierrez, who filed the case, cited language in the Texas Constitution that states: “The Legislature shall, at its first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census
, apportion the state into senatorial and representative districts.”
Eckhardt and Gutierrez argue that due to the delay in census data, lawmakers are forbidden from reapportioning districts until 2023. If the lawsuit succeeds, which some legal experts see as unlikely, a panel of judges would draw the lines in the lead up to the 2022 election, and the Legislature would take up the matter during its next regular session, which starts in January 2023.
Many elected officials and potential candidates would like to see the redistricting process wrapped up as quickly as possible because they’re unable to commit to running for future elections until they see the final maps. The state’s next primary elections are scheduled for March 1, 2022, with a deadline for candidates to file by Dec. 13, 2021. But based on a law passed during the Legislature’s second special session early this year, the 2022 primary elections and deadlines might be moved to later dates.
The existing dates will hold if redistricting is completed by Nov. 15, in which case the candidate filing period would begin on Nov. 29. If redistricting isn’t completed by Nov. 15, then the law establishes that the primary election would take place on either April 5 or May 22, depending on when the redistricting process is complete.
Stay Informed and Get Involved
We hope that this has been a helpful explanation of the redistricting process. Please don’t hesitate to contact TCDD
if you have any questions.
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