Why Redistricting Matters

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Politics in the Lone Star State have probably never been more exciting. From Governor Perry throwing his ten-gallon hat into the ring for the GOP presidential nomination (and his subsequent exit), to the proposed Voter ID bill and more, it can all be a bit overwhelming. Texas’ ongoing redistricting wrangle has definitely been the most contentious.

Texas earned four new seats in the House of Representatives this year, due in most part to a significant boom in the Latino population since the last census was conducted in 2000. This past year’s data showed a 20 percent increase in Hispanic residents, who now account for 38 percent of Texas’ total population.

When it came time for the Texas legislature to draw new district lines during last summer’s legislative session, Republican leaders created boundary maps that many minority defense groups saw as flagrantly disregarding the Voting Rights Act, which requires historically discriminatory states to ensure they do not dilute a minority population’s voting power.

What has since ensued has been a convoluted struggle amongst the Texas GOP, the U.S. Supreme Court, and minority rights activists.

Latino rights groups promptly filed claims against the state of Texas, contending that the maps drawn by the leg- islature displayed a blatant act of gerrymandering. Civil rights groups have identified up to five state House districts where district lines seem to favor a Republican candidate, where otherwise the mostly minority population would tend to lean Democratic.

A federal court reviewed the maps in November to determine their validity under the Voting Rights Act. A separate three-judge panel in San Antonio produced interim maps in an attempt to allow election proceedings to continue. The maps—more respective of growing Hispanic voter clout—re- ceived a flurry of backlash from Texas legislators. Meanwhile, activist groups’ lawsuits against the state made their way through the court system.

Amidst the kerfuffle, Texas’ primary date has been pushed back more than once.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the three-judge panel maps in late January and sent them back to the lower court, which will prompt yet another redrawing that Texas legis- lators say they hope pays more deference to the originally drawn maps.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said in an interview with Fox News on Jan 23 that he was pleased with the court’s decision and cited the state’s right to defer to its originally proposed maps rather than the federally imposed plan.

A federal court heard closing arguments Jan. 31 to determine final district boundaries. In mid-February, a federal judge advised state officials to plan on a May 29 primary—which would give Texas one of the latest primaries in the 2012 election cycle (thereby lessening its influence in the GOP presidential nominating contest).

Domingo Garcia, head of the Latino Redistricting Task Force, said the federally drawn maps properly gave voting majority power to Hispanics, and has firmly denounced the Texas-drawn maps as being unconstitutional.

Garcia represented a coalition of Latino action groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense Force and the League of United Latino American Citizens when the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the maps. “Right now, it’s all up in the air,” said Dominguez.

It stands to wonder: Are minority voter rights in Texas simply a Latino community issue? Should members of other constituent groups be concerned as well?

“This becomes something that could happen to rural communities, to urban communities, any community,” said Dominguez. “It’s an abuse of power and should not be tolerated under our Constitution and under the Voting Rights Act.”

Continuing, he said it is critical for Texans to exercise their voting power this election cycle.

“It’s the only way we can change the services we receive from our legislators,” he said.

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