Why redistricting is so important in Texas

by | Aug 16, 2019 | Policy, Voting

Editor’s note: The Signal is re-publishing this article by Austin Eldridge of the ACLU of Texas. The image and infogram are also courtesy of the organization.

We often hear how important it is to show up at the polls to cast our ballots. What we hear less often is that there’s another, just as important electoral process to participate in: redistricting. And the window to get involved in the process is coming faster than you think.

The redrawing of state and federal legislative district boundaries occurs every 10 years to account for changes in the way communities look over time, including population growth and shifts in urban demographics.

In Texas, the state legislature uses Redistricting Committees in both the House and Senate to redraw legislative districts after every 10-year census count is completed. For example, the next census will occur in 2020, and the Texas State Legislature will redraw the district boundaries during the legislative session in January 2021.

Your elected officials get a large voice in deciding who is included, and excluded, in their district based on the demographic data that the census provides. When the redistricting process is done well, lines are drawn that represent all communities.

But when done incorrectly or illegally, lines can be drawn to dilute minority communities’ voting power. That’s why it’s so important for people from all walks of life to keep elected officials accountable to drawing fair district maps that make sure that every person’s vote counts equally.

Know the Facts and Terms

Texas has the most districts second only to California. That means we are a populous state with big voting power in Congress.

Redistricting is like many government processes, full of jargon and other terms passively meant to confuse and overwhelm people. The good news is that while the terms might be new, there are plenty of resources to help you learn the basics.

Know Texas’ Most Recent Redistricting History

Unfortunately, the Texas Legislature has a history of gerrymandering, a term used to describe the process of drawing district lines in ways that decrease the voting power of certain groups of people while increasing the power of others.

The results of gerrymandering often makes our districts look like ink blots, or as this designer noted, an abstract alphabet, in an attempt to sway elections a certain way over the course of 10 years before the process starts all over again.

The most recent history includes a federal court in San Antonio ruling that district lines in Dallas and Tarrant counties had been drawn to discriminate against Latinx and Black communities. Texas was forced to go back and redraw its maps.

Know the Dates

Starting in September 2019 and leading up to the 2021 legislative session, the state Redistricting Committees will be holding a series of town hall meetings, or field hearings, open to the public. Like many state community engagement meetings, these are not widely publicized.

Find out where the redistricting town hall nearest you will be held using the map tool below, and commit to attend the town hall in your area. Show your elected officials that you are concerned about the redistricting process, how it will affect your community, and also demand transparency.

You can also help in the effort to spread the word about the town halls by sharing this map with your friends, family, and other community members so they can attend the meetings as well.

Field Hearing map

Know How to Act

The ACLU of Texas along with other organizations like Texas Civil Rights Projectand the League of Women Voters of Texaswill be holding in-person and online trainings over the next few months to help folks learn more about redistricting and get prepared to attend their local town hall.

Looking forward to 2021 redistricting, Texans can’t fall asleep at the wheel; we must demand transparency from our elected officials, including at the upcoming field hearings being held throughout the state. We must also make our voices heard at the polls and elect officials dedicated to drawing fair maps.

Sign up to receive action alerts to keep abreast of Redistricting Committee updates, public hearings, and to learn more about how the ACLU of Texas plans to hold lawmakers accountable before the maps are drawn in 2021.

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