Once a decade, the U.S. census provides population numbers each state uses to redraw electoral boundaries. How those boundaries are drawn is usually determined by which political party holds power in the state legislature. Texas’ redistricting process, which will begin soon, has caught the attention of former Attorney General Eric Holder, who held that office during the Obama administration. He’s also concerned about legislation that adds new regulations to the voting process in the state.
Holder is chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. He told Texas Standard that his desire to work on redistricting issues came out of the way the process played out in 2011 when he says Republicans gerrymandered electoral maps to benefit their candidates. He cites a Princeton University study that found gerrymandering in 2011 was “the worst in a half century.” Holder says his goal is to encourage a fair process that doesn’t give either party undue influence.
Texas gained two congressional seats in the 2020 census. Holder says the demographics of the population growth that brought those seats to Texas should be reflected in how the maps are drawn.
“These two new seats should at least, at a minimum, be competitive for Democrats,” Holder said. “But I think we have seen Republicans not really caring about fairness; they care about the acquisition and retention of power.”
Holder calls the election law changes Republicans passed during the current legislative session “anti-voter provisions.” He says they are a preview of what to expect during the redistricting process, likely to begin in the fall.
He says the provisions included in House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, which their authors say enhance election security, were created as a response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election. Other Republican-led states, including Georgia, have adopted stringent new voting restrictions.
“Republicans are pushing these bills under this false pretext that elections are somehow not safe or not secure,” Holder said. “This is nonsense, full stop.”
Holder says Texas electoral districts are already among the most gerrymandered in the nation, and the state has continued to pass laws that create obstacles to voting.
“The combination of that voter suppression with gerrymandering is something that’s unbelievably anti-democratic and inconsistent with who we say we are as a nation,” Holder said.
Holder says voters are often unaware of the direct connection between gerrymandering – drawing districts to favor the party in power, even if the districts split communities and ignore geographic boundaries – and issues many care about. He cites reproductive rights, Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform, all issues Democrats have campaigned for over the years, as examples.
Districts drawn to protect those with legislative power can prevent policies the majority of voters favor from being adopted, Holder says, because elected officials need not face voters who don’t agree with them. In Texas, that looks like Republicans drawing boundaries that insulate them from facing an increasingly diverse electorate that leans Democratic.
“[Republicans] have a more tenuous hold on the majority in the state. But instead of changing their policies to appeal to what is clearly a changing electorate in Texas, they’re doubling down.”
He says voters who want more choices should get involved.
“We should be energized, galvanized, motivated to fight those efforts,” Holder said.