On Tuesday, Texas lawmakers kicked off the latest round of preparations for redrawing the state’s political maps in 2021. The so-called redistricting will take place after the new census count is completed in 2020.
Michael Li is senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. He says Texas’ congressional and state legislative maps have been redrawn multiple times since 2011 because various courts have found fault with the original districts.
“Texas, every decade for the last four decades, has had to redraw some of its maps,” Li says.
Courts have based orders to redraw maps on the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects the voting strength of members of minority groups. Texas is now allowed to draw maps without federal pre-clearance, which used to be required.
“Up through this last cycle, Texas was required, through the Voting Rights Act, to preserve the ability of communities of color to elect representatives where they could,” Li says.
But the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned Texas’ obligation to protect mostly minority districts, giving Texas lawmakers a freer hand when drawing maps.
Li says lawmakers are conducting hearings this week, during which community leaders, activists and experts can offer criticism of existing maps and suggest alternatives.
The 2020 census is expected to show that Texas has grown more diverse over the past 10 years. It’s also possible the state will add three representatives in Congress, based on increased population. Li says Texas is expected to be the fastest-growing state in the country.
“The projection is that [Texas] will have added close to 4 million new people, which is actually, in terms of size, bigger than the population of 22 states,” Li says.
Two-thirds of that population growth is expected to come from Latinos, while 23% will be African American, he says. That adds up to nearly 90% of the state’s growth coming from minority communities.
Li says the state’s shifting population and demographics may encourage lawmakers to draw maps differently.
“In the past, they divided up Austin five or six different ways in order to maximize Republican seats,” Li says. “That has made a lot of these districts competitive because Austin has grown so fast, and because white voters are moving toward the Democrats.”
And these facts, surprisingly, might lead Republican lawmakers to put Austin residents back into a single district, as a means of concentrating Democratic voters, he says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.