This week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a third special session on redistricting set to begin Sept. 20.
The new state and federal district lines will stand for a decade and have a lasting impact on who has power in the state and Congress.
One report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress found that between 2012 and 2016 an average of 59 U.S. House shifted parties every cycle due to partisan gerrymandering. That includes Texas, which the report says benefits from three additional Republican U.S. House seats due to biased districts.
The legislature’s new focus on redistricting comes shortly after Abbott signed Senate Bill 1, the state’s sweeping elections bill that will make it more difficult to vote.
Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner recently warned that with the voter suppression bill going into effect in December and redistricting just around the corner, the U.S. Senate needed to act immediately on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. “Our democracy depends on it,” Turner said.
The legislation would strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and force states with a history of racist voter suppression (like Texas) to be subject to federal preclearance before making election-related changes.
As it relates to racial gerrymandering, the bill contains a provision so that any changes to the boundaries of election districts in areas that see a population increase of minority groups are also subject to federal preclearance. This would have major implications for Texas, which saw a major increase in Asian and Hispanic populations, per the latest Census.
The For the People Act, the other piece of federal voting rights legislation that Texas Democrats broke quorum for, also aims to tackle gerrymandering by creating an independent commission to address congressional redistricting.
Although the legislature’s third special session redistricting has yet to start, lawmakers are already holding public hearings to hear input from Texans. The public hearings in both chambers will continue until the end of the week.
During the first such hearing in the Texas Senate, Rep. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) said lawmakers had a tighter timeframe than usual to tackle redistricting and one more special session may be needed to get through all the maps.
When asked by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) if she believed the new maps would be ready for the March 1, 2022 primaries, Huffman said yes — assuming everything goes right.
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