Lawmakers in Texas have unveiled a new proposed congressional map which stands to protect Republican incumbents throughout the state at the expense of accounting for the massive growth of Black and brown populations.
The map, which if approved would be in effect for the next decade, shrinks the number of districts that would have gone to Democrats in the 2020 election and increases the number of districts where Republicans would have won that same election. Final approval of the new maps is left to Gov. Greg Abbott.
The process of redistricting, or drawing new electoral district boundaries, happens every 10 years in each state and is intended to ensure that electoral representation reflects population growth and changes. In Texas, 95% of the population growth over the past decade can be attributed to people of color. But this year’s map appears to reflect more of the GOP’s strategy to bolster Republican seats instead of census data that reveals a state that’s grown younger and more diverse over time. In particular, the Latinx population in Texas has grown by more than 2 million since 2010.
“We would have expected to see greater representation for the Latino community in the maps drawn,” said Thomas Saenz, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) president and general counsel. “This has become an almost ubiquitous pattern with the Texas legislature, and we expect to have to go to court as we have decade after decade, because the Texas legislature has a long standing pattern of not adequately responding to the growth of the Latino population.”
That discrepancy is particularly apparent in Tarrant County in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Latinx population in Tarrant County has grown 28% since 2010. And while Tarrant County swung blue in the 2020 presidential election, this new congressional map redrew the district to include more conservative voters from nearby counties.
The sisyphean task of challenging discriminatory redistricting plans that organizations like MALDEF has been tasked with time and again was made more complicated in 2013, when the Supreme Court eliminated certain protections against gerrymandering in redistricting.
The ruling in Shelby County v. Holder cleared the way for a number of restrictive voting laws and policies, including the elimination of a pre-review process for the electoral mapmaking process in states with a history of voter discrimination, like Texas. Under the former provisions, states would have to submit proposed changes to election laws or political maps to the federal government for approval.
This year marks Texas’ first redistricting process without those protections since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
Without those protections, Saenz says the recourse for folks working to preserve voting rights like MALDEF is to sue the state.
MALDEF has sued the state of Texas to protect voting rights before, most recently in 2011, which was the last time Texas redrew congressional districts. The suit alleged the redistricting process failed to reflect Latinx population growth in the state and sought a new congressional map. MALDEF won the suit, and the state was forced to increase the number of Latinx-majority districts in both the Texas State House and in Congress.
“Ultimately, the Texas legislature’s failure to follow the law in 2011 will cost Texas taxpayers millions and millions of dollars, and that’s what’s being determined now,” Saenz said, explaining that MALDEF is currently in the process of determining what the state of Texas will pay from the 2011 lawsuit. “That’s what they’re doing today. With 2021 they run the risk, again, of a lawsuit that ultimately costs Texas taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.
While the average voter may not be tuned into the once a decade process of redistricting, Saenz says it’s a critical step in preserving democracy and engaging Latinx voters.
“For people to be engaged, they have to believe they have a chance their candidate will win,” Saenz said, noting that redistricting not only impacts one election, but has long-term effects on voter participation. “That’s the problem when you fail to create Latino majority districts in Congress, for example, then people have the consistent experience that their preferred candidate always loses. In any community, that’s a recipe for people deciding it’s not worth their time to become involved, to register to vote, to participate another way.”