Every 10 years, after the Census, Texas state lawmakers gather to redraw our congressional and state legislative district boundaries. They are tasked with ensuring these districts are drawn so that the new districts have nearly equal populations and do not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.
This process is known as “redistricting.”
Redistricting impacts every aspect of our lives. It determines which politicians get to vote on the issues each of us cares about, from healthcare to education, to immigration, and beyond. Unfortunately, in every redistricting cycle in the last half-century, Texas has been found to have intentionally discriminated against people of color and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Because of this discrimination, Texas remains one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. In 2011, a federal court found that the Texas legislature unconstitutionally discriminated in its line-drawing and highlighted “[t]he exclusion of minority member and public input despite the minority population growth, the misleading information, the secrecy, and closed process, and the rushed process.” Recently the same panel of judges stated: “Given the record produced in 2011, the State must implement a process that, by any reasonable definition, is ‘fair and open.’”
Video: Vox explainer titled “Gerrymandering: How politicians rig elections”
The typical closed-door process with backroom deals between politicians undermines democracy. Instead of voters picking politicians, you end up with politicians picking their voters. When politicians pick their voters, they have no incentive to be responsive to the actual wishes of the people, and we end up with policies that a majority of people oppose. You also end up with broken up distorted lines that unnecessarily break apart neighborhoods and communities
Public input is vital for redistricting efforts to ensure fairness and transparency. By letting the politicians know people are watching, we can hold them accountable to take common-sense measures to draw fair maps. Because the actual district maps will not be drawn until after the census data is released, it is crucial that we demand that lawmakers follow a fair and transparent process when it comes time to actually draw the lines. Texas Civil Rights Project and partner organizations with the Fair Maps Texas coalition have made the following recommendations for legislators to follow a fair and transparent process:
Provide notice of hearings and adequate opportunities to review maps before hearings.
Hold public hearings with public testimony on any proposed maps after they have been drawn, but before they pass through legislative committees.
Give ample time for all legislators, and the general public, to introduce alternative map suggestions.
Start the process by ensuring districts comply with the Voting Rights Act. Give groups representing communities of color a voice in the process.
Don’t look at data showing which political party people vote for while drawing maps.
Keep all documents, written communications, emails, text messages, and draft maps. The public has a right to full transparency on how and why proposed maps were created.
Explain how the maps were drawn, and why there was any deviation from traditional redistricting principles, including county and precinct splits and population deviations.
To stay up-to-date on how to stop secret deals and ensure transparency in Texas’ redistricting process, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also follow our partners at MOVE Texas and Texas Freedom Network.
Joaquin Gonzalez is a staff attorney for the Voting Rights program at Texas Civil Rights Project. firstname.lastname@example.org.