In Texas’ third legislative session, the state once again sparked controversy over the Republican-drawn redistricting maps which legal experts predicted, at the time, would bring the state a slew of lawsuits for violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
And before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott could officially sign the maps into law, numerous lawsuits were filed against the state, including the country’s largest Latino legal civil rights organization the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) where they argue the maps discriminate against Latino voters statewide.
Now with the United States Department of Justice also filing a suit, non-profit organizations like the Texas Civil Rights Project are looking at what exactly happened that led to the ongoing legal battle.
The Signal spoke to Miguel Rivera, voting rights outreach coordinator at TCRP, about a recent report the organization released on Thursday which tracks public engagement in the redistricting process, Republicans ongoing gerrymandering tactics, and a breakdown of some of the newly drawn districts.
“We knew that Texas had a very bad history of gerrymandering its districts in every redistricting cycle, particularly after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but what we wanted to encapsulate in the report was how on top of blanket gerrymandering, the state government also just went completely against the will of the people,” Rivera said.
According to the report, the public interest was clear as 863 Texans participated in the public hearings in-person and virtually to voice their opinions on the maps. In the midst of a pandemic and with very little notice and communication from the legislative committees, Texans still made a point to be involved and asked for a transparent, inclusive, and accessible process.
More specifically, Texans asked the committee to refrain from unconstitutional racial discrimination, follow the Voting Rights Act, and create a map that reflects the diversity of the state.
Nevertheless, GOP lawmakers managed to create a map that solidified incumbent support and dilutes minority communities’ voting power.
“In almost every hearing held by the two committees on the Senate and the House side we had Texans who were asking for a more transparent process and then when the maps were made available out of 107 participants, 100 were against the maps,” Rivera said. “So we knew that these maps were deeply unpopular with Texans and the legislature needed to make [the process] as quick and unaccessible as possible in order to really move it forward.”
For context, according to the 2020 census, Texas has the fastest growing population in the country. Specifically, people of color which totaled to 16 percent of the growth in the past 10 years.
The report also noted that in Texas 254 counties, 111 had grown predominantly in urban and suburban areas while the 143 majority rural counties decreased in population.
Because of the growth in the state, Texas was given two additional congressional seats to accommodate the population. Nevertheless, Republican legislators didn’t waste any time creating white majority districts in many urban areas and left many communities without proper representation.
For example, according to the report, although the two new congressional districts are drawn in diverse cities, Houston and Austin, the way the district is drawn CD-37 and CD-38 are majority white.
“This was a very clear showing that the legislature was not going to take into account the exploding diversity in our state because any fair redistricting process, the two new districts that we were apportioned because of our population growth would have gone into the communities fueling that growth,” Rivera said.
In addition to the newly drawn white majority districts, GOP lawmakers broke apart CD-15 which usually has a majority of Latinx communities in Jim Hogg and Duval counties. But now the district is also integrated with parts of Wilson County, which predominantly consists of white conservative voters.
“So basically [the district] makes it a bit more competitive and gives it a slight edge for a Republican who would run in that district simply because of the data from the 2020 election,” Rivera said. “So this is a very strategic move by the legislature to insulate the ruling party’s power within the state.”
According to Rivera, there is a possibility for the state legislative maps to be redrawn in 2023 based on a provision in the Texas Constitution. So just like in the 2021 legislative sessions, Texans need to remain diligent in the fight for democracy.
“These maps that we just drew this year will basically follow us for the next 10 years,” he said. “They will affect how I’m represented and because of how they are drawn will usually affect who will win a race in a district. Moving forward, we want to encourage Texans that this is the way the state is going and is all completely due to Texans overwhelming participation.”