Editor’s note: as was the case for the redistricting trial for the Texas House of Representatives, longtime redistricting expert Russ Tidwell sat through the recent week-long Congressional redistricting trial in Federal Judge Orlando Garcia’s courtroom in San Antonio. He was kind enough to once again share his insights here:
By Russ Tidwell
After the national census every ten years, congressional seats are re-allocated among the states. Some states lose seats, some gain, and all districts must be redrawn to balance population. Anglo legislators have a history of using this process to disenfranchise minority voters in their states. This most recent Congressional redistricting cycle has, arguably, proven to be the worst one in modern times.
Texas was allocated four new districts, more than any other state. This is because we gained four million new people. Fully 90% of that growth was because of a rapidly growing minority population.
In fact, if the state had grown only at the rate of the Anglo population, Texas would not have gained any Congressional seats at all, and could have actually lost one. So rapid minority population growth was solely responsible for us retaining one seat and picking up four more.
Question: So, when the legislature met to draw new districts, how many of these five seats were drawn to provide new political opportunity for minorities?
Answer: None. In fact, Hispanic Texans saw a net loss of one seat.
This is why the state has been tied up in Federal Court the last three years.
The vote dilution, and the fact that the effort was legally flawed, is best illustrated by a contrasting demonstration map, Plan C262, which was entered into evidence in Federal court during the trial by LULAC, one of the plaintiffs in the case. Here’s a detailed fact sheet on LULAC’s Plan C262.
Evidence of vote dilution presented in the Congressional Redistricting trial last week can best be understood when organized geographically into three distinct regions:
- South Texas and Border
- Travis County in Central Texas
- The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex
South Texas and the Border Region
If you draw a line from El Paso to Odessa-Midland, then to San Antonio, continuing to Victoria and east to the gulf coast, the population around and south of that line is predominately Hispanic.
There is sufficient population in this region to draw eight effective Hispanic opportunity districts, as demonstrated by the LULAC demonstration map. The eight districts are each majority Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Population (HCVAP) and provide real political opportunity for Hispanics.
Six effective Hispanic opportunity districts already existed in this region from the previous decade.
Did the legislature simply add two more? No.
First, they took two away. Evidence presented in trial showed they effectively gutted Hispanic voting strength in CD 23 (which runs from San Antonio to El Paso) so they could protect a first term Republican incumbent. Then they took away the Hispanic majority in CD 27, which had run from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. To protect a new Anglo incumbent elected in the 2010 Republican landslide, they instead ran the district from Corpus north to Bastrop.
They did create one new effective Hispanic district based in Cameron County, CD 34.
But then, they allegedly engaged in the creation of a sham district, CD 35, which was designed to appear Hispanic, even though it did not have a majority of Hispanic registered voters. It clearly would not have provided effective opportunity for Hispanic voting rights. It ran from south San Antonio to south Austin, along narrow strips around I-35 and seemed to really be part of a plan to pack and crack minority voters in Travis County (discussed below).
LULAC’s demonstration map clearly shows that there is sufficient Hispanic citizenship and voting strength in South Texas to draw eight effective districts without going into Travis County: CD 35 is based on the south side of San Antonio. CD 27 unites Hispanics in Corpus Christi with supportive populations to the south, while including coastal counties to the north. CD 23 regains sufficient Hispanic voting strength. CD 34 remains based in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. And the four other previously existing districts, CDs 15, 16, 20, and 28, all retain their core territory and are effective Hispanic districts.
The legislature could have done the right thing in South Texas, but it didn’t.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act effectively mandates the creation of majority Hispanic opportunity districts when it can be demonstrated that certain conditions are met, and in South Texas, the LULAC demonstration map meets those conditions.
Evidence presented in trial showed that CD 25, based in Travis County, was an effective opportunity district for minority voters. It was a “crossover district,” where minority voters engaged in a tri-ethnic coalition of Hispanics, African-Americans, and like-minded Anglos, to elect their candidates of choice. Evidence presented in Court showed this voting coalition has functioned for decades and elected numerous people of color to countywide and district office.
The legislative leadership wanted to eliminate CD 25’s current incumbent, Lloyd Doggett. But to do this they effectively destroyed the voting rights of Travis County’s minority citizens. To eliminate Doggett, they systematically packed or fragmented these voters into five districts. This also left Travis County, which is where Austin is, as the most populated county in the nation that does not dominate a single congressional district. This damages the right to effective representation for all the citizens of the city and county.
The LULAC demonstration map illustrates that it was not necessary for CD 35 to encroach into Travis County. The legislative plan unnecessarily packed Hispanics from south Travis into that district to make it possible to successfully fragment the remainder in four other districts. This is a classic packing and cracking scheme that is likely illegal under both the Voting Rights Act and the 14th amendment to the federal constitution.
Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex
The combined population of Dallas and Tarrant (Fort Worth) Counties roughly equals that of Harris County (Houston), and the minority proportions of the population in each metropolitan area are both similar and substantial. But while Harris County contained three minority opportunity districts, DFW had only one. There was ample evidence presented in court to demonstrate that the minority citizens in that north Texas region had been denied their voting rights through systematically packing and cracking their populations.
The Federal Court’s first interim map partly remedied this by allowing one naturally occurring concentration of minority voters to remain united in CD 33. Plaintiffs seek to further reverse this fragmentation pattern and allow a total of three minority concentration to dominate districts in DFW, the same number as in Harris County. Numerous plaintiff exhibits demonstrate how this can be done.
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All told, the Congressional trial effectively presented the evidence necessary to show how the legislature minimized, and even reduced, effective minority representation, in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the constitution. This, despite the fact that minority growth in Texas is solely responsible for all four of Texas’ additional Congressional seats.