Redistricting in Texas
Politicians in Texas have used improper means of redistricting, so that their parties can attain unfair advantages. Redistricting entails the creation of district boundaries by legislatures. The thirty-six state representatives and state legislatures are elected from various districts in Texas; they make up the Texas legislature. The district boundaries are subjected to review after every ten years, after the completion of the census. The federal government mandates that each district, should have near equal population, and prejudice should not exist(Fraga,2016). Redistricting in Texas has been marred by various controversies. Politicians have adopted gerrymandering, which is improper redistricting to divide voting areas, giving their parties unfair advantages. Gerrymandering has disadvantaged many Texan voters, this is because their votes are rendered meaningless given that they do not count into who will be their representative. This policy report will aid in identifying the drive for partisan gerrymandering and its effect on Texans.
Some people have termed redistricting as anti-democratic process, given that politicians basically decide who their voters will be. Redistricting when done properly, can be used in effecting fair and effective representation. The resulting map from after redistricting affects the election and ultimately the political landscape. Therefore, redistricting has been regarded as a political exercise; that is guided by state legislatures. When one party is in control of the state legislative bodies and the office of the governor it is easier to facilitate gerrymandering. Redistricting has been used by politicians to propel their own agenda. Gerrymandering is undertaken to gain control of either state legislation or congressional representation. This also enables political parties to potentially maintain control over several decades, even if there is a shift in state population. In the U.S gerrymandering is mostly partisan, where it is geared to favour one political party and weaken another (McKee, Teigen &Turgeon,2006).
There are also cases of racial gerrymandering, that aims to weaken the votes of the minority. Gerrymandering a district map has been made possible with advanced computing powers. The geographical information and census data can be used as inputs; mapmakers use computers to process this data to achieve potential map configuration. The computers can distinguish the voter’s preference, this enables the packing and cracking of voters. Packing voter’s entails grouping like-minded voters in one district to limit their influence in other districts. This ensures that the group is given representation in one district and yet denying them representation in other districts. While cracking entails spreading likeminded people in different districts thus diluting their influence.
redistricting should actually not be left to the politicians because it is an important democratic process that influences a lot of things. It is unfair for politicians to choose their voters although indirectly as eventually it may have an effect on the election. In ;2012, a research indicated that states where Democratic legislatures had controlled redistricting, their candidates were able to win the election by about 56 percent of the votes and they acquired 71% of the seats. The Republicans too were guilty of this as states where they controlled the process, they were able to bag 53% of the votes and 72% of the seats (McKee, pg. 308-317). Instead of race there are other factors that can be used to control redistricting including community interest. Communities of interest describes a group that share common cultural, racial, economic or geographic concerns. Communities of interest are more likely to have similar legislative interest. For example, if there is a district that was redrawn and is now composed of more farmers while the other is more composed of city dwellers these two groups are likely to elect representatives that may reflect different aspirations or priorities.
Texas witnesses a seven-year legal battle over their legislative maps. However, the supreme court made a ruling rejecting claims of that they had intentionally drawn out boundaries, to dilute minority voters. The Abbot versus Perez rounds out a string of defeats; this ruling vindicates the Texas republican legislatures strategy of shielding an electoral map deemed discriminative, from judicial correction. After the 2010 census, Texas lawmakers redrew the state legislative and congressional districts in 2011. Some of the minorities; African Americans and Hispanic mounted a legal challenge, intending to challenge the new map. The argument established was that republican lawmakers had participated in racial gerrymandering, that favoured the white Texans voting influence(Lo,2013). The alterations were made, given that the 2012 election were imminent, and it would play a decisive role in that year’s election; this was made possible by the federal court making minor alterations to the 2011 map. The Texas republican adopted the court interim maps, making few alterations in 2013. However, the courts later on ruled that the 2011 map, had been drawn with clear discriminatory intent. However, the state argued that the maps had largely been drawn by the courts(Payne,2013). This shows how the republicans were able to legalise a gerrymandered map through the judiciary.
The democratic process was established to ensure that the community choose their own representatives. However, redistricting has weakened the electoral power of voter. This is because of racial redistricting, whereby minority communities are disadvantaged. Given that minority voters are concentrated in a few districts or are spread among themselves, these explains how the Texan republicans are able to maintain an artificial majority. The diminishing of an individual’s vote poses a threat to democracy. Hillary Clinton was able to garner 43 percent of the votes in Texas; however, the republican party dominates holding 25 whereas Democrats hold 11 seats in the house. Democrats hold 30 percent share of the delegation; this is in direct contrast with the state-wide voting pattern. This argument can hold weight, highlighting how the Republicans might have obtained the majority undemocratically and unfairly. The 2010 census clearly highlighted that 90 percent of new Texan population were minorities. Traditionally these communities have supported Democratic leaders. The ruling by the three judge panel ruled in march citing that the republican law makers were guilty of packing and cracking voters over several districts. The ruling pointed out the congressional districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. They cited this as prime examples of gerrymandering. Whereby packing and cracking diluted the minority communities electoral influence. Redistricting has affected the voter turnout in the state.
Various policies can be championed, to bring out redistricting reforms in Texas. Therefore, the state of Texas has decided to hold public input hearings, conducted by the House Redistricting Committee. This exercise will be undertaken in various parts of the state. The aim is to garner feedback from the community on what the next redistricting map should look like. This is because the drawn up maps affect the daily lives of the community. Therefore, boundary lines should be drawn for the benefit of the community rather than the legislatures. The state should invest in public awareness, where they inform the public on the importance of participating in the redistricting process. This can be done through informing the public on tentative hearing schedules and venues. The state of Texas can adopt measures taken up by other states such as California. California has tasked its citizen with the entire process of mapping out boundaries. This is aimed at putting power in the hands of more-independent bodies; this was aimed at taking pure politics out of it. Tactics such as racial gerrymandering should be done away with during redistricting; this will ensure that people will have fair representation.
The next redistricting which is supposed to take place in 2021 is being looked at to see if there will be gerrymandering by the parties. The history of fighting for fair redistricting process in Texas can be accredited to Jose Garza who brought a case to the U.S Supreme court on how Texas lawmakers were drawing maps that seemed to be undermining the people of colour. Gerrymanders in Texas politics is not new and Garzas aim was dismantling the political structures that were undermining people of colour. The most affected are people of colour the Hispanics and Blacks. Although the court has seemed to ruled that the process is fair, people are keen to see what will happen in 2021 now that Redistricting committee has been having dozens of hearings on what to do on new political boundaries. With the mounting pressure for equity and fairness people of colour are hopeful that the new boundaries will not discriminate against them
Every system has its flaws; it would be pretentious to assume that adopting methods taken up by other states will be effective. However drastic steps and measures need to be taken, the outcomes can be re-evaluated. However, reforms around the country have shown that, it is possible for states to make the redistricting process more transparent and involving the necessary stakeholders. Redistricting reform should focus less on partisan control, rather the process should focus more on it making sense to voters. However, while coming up with reforms, it is important to note that, it is a process that is vulnerable to distortion. If done well redistricting can provide an opportunity for the minorities, to elect leaders of their choice; who will be able to represent them in their respective districts.References
Fraga, B. L. (2016). Redistricting and the causal impact of race on voter turnout. The Journal of Politics, 78(1), 19-34.
Lo, J. (2013). Legislative responsiveness to gerrymandering: Evidence from the 2003 Texas redistricting. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 8(1), 75-92.
McKee, S. C., Teigen, J. M., & Turgeon, M. (2006). The partisan impact of congressional redistricting: the case of Texas, 2001–2003. Social Science Quarterly, 87(2), 308-317.
Payne, M. M. (2013). Redistricting and reapportionment: Reforming Texas district courts. The University of Texas at Dallas.