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Congressional redistricting trial shows how Hispanic voting rights can be restored

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.

PLANC262_Statewide

LULAC demonstration map C262. Click the image to enlarge for detail

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:

  1. South Texas and Border
  2. Travis County in Central Texas
  3. 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.

Travis County

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.

* * *

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.

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Guest post: Texas legislative redistricting now – does it still matter?

A similar guest post by Russ Tidwell on the Congressional redistricting trial may be found here.

Editor’s note: while the Texas redistricting wars have, sadly, been largely out of public view lately, they currently rage on. The trial before a 3 judge federal court in San Antonio on the state House of Representatives map recently concluded, and a similar trial before the same court on the Congressional map is about to begin. The issues are not without importance – there’s a very good reason Republicans put so much effort into over-reaching on redistricting maps: the more they minimize minority representation, the more they institutionalize Republican majorities. The heavier the Republican dominance, the more Tea Party activists hijack the legislative process and its resulting policy. That said, the details of what Republican map-drawers have done, and why it should offend those who support minority voting rights and the Voting Rights Act, are difficult for a standard-issue Texan interested in politics to understand, if only because media doesn’t often delve into the level of detail necessary. So I asked longtime friend and redistricting expert Russ Tidwell, who has worked on the issue for 32 years and who was in the courtroom for the House map trial recently, to break it down and explain core problems in the Republican House map, why it should matter, and what difference it makes to the rest of us: 

Voting Rights Gutted in Texas State House

By Russ Tidwell

The protections in the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution are defined by the opportunity of minority voters to elect the candidate of their choice, even in cases where that candidate does not look like them.

Hundreds of thousands of minority citizens in urban and suburban Texas have been denied a voice in the Texas Legislature because their voting strength, in naturally occurring concentrations, has been diluted by systematically fragmenting or packing their votes.

redistrictingThis intentional fragmentation can be easily seen and understood when it happens in places like Bell County, where a naturally occurring minority population in the city of Killeen is surrounded by a sea of rural Anglos. The legislature split the city of Killeen for the first time ever, removing 32,000 (2/3 of them people of color) from district 54 and moving them to district 55.  Then they took more than 40,000 people (2/3 of them Anglo) from a rural area of district 55 and added them back to district 54.  The intent is clear.  Continued Anglo domination of the district is secured.

However, it is harder for the eye to grasp this systematic process in the urban and suburban jumble of numerous districts. But this is where minority voting rights took the big hit in the 2011 redistricting.

What happened can best be explained by taking a look at Dallas County as a whole:

  • The 2003 redistricting had left six widely recognized minority opportunity districts in the south and central part of the county. The same number as the decade before. (Four were African-American and two were Hispanic controlled).
  • North Dallas had ten districts under Anglo control in 2003, with minority populations fairly evenly diffused among them in the beginning.  Over a decade of rapid demographic change, however, naturally occurring concentrations of minority voters elected their candidates of choice in four of these districts (HDs 101, 102, 106 and 107) and came within 19 votes of electing their candidate in another, HD 105.
  • Just as minority citizens had come together to elect their candidate of choice, Wendy Davis, in a senate district in neighboring Tarrant County; minority voters were able to have an effective voice in almost half the districts in North Dallas by 2008.  (Similar gains were made in other urban counties by 2008.)
  • North Dallas voters had made a difference for minority interests in the Texas Legislature.  During the 2009 legislative session (after the historic 2008 election) the House was closely divided, 74-76.  A radical Republican Speaker was deposed and replaced by a more moderate one. Legislators representing minority voters made the difference in this equation.  They had meaningful participation and significant influence on the issues of the day.
  • This did not last.  The 2010 national tsunami election swept nineteen minority candidates-of-choice from the Texas House and left Anglos firmly in control of the 2011 redistricting process.

The intentional fragmentation that followed resulted in the loss, for minority voters, of a controlling voice in four districts in North Dallas.  This cannot be fairly remedied by cramming many of those voters in one or two elongated districts, as some will propose.  That would be illegal packing.  The state may try to “settle” for this later.  That would play into their hands and continue the pattern Anglos have used for decades to minimize minority voting strength in the legislature.  If they can’t diffuse them into many districts, they will pack them into as few districts as possible.

There were at least four naturally occurring concentrations of minority voters who were engaging in coalitions to elect their candidates of choice: The City of Mesquite (HD 101); North Dallas to Garland (HD102); Irving and Grand Prairie (HDs 105 & 106) and South Garland to Lower East Dallas (HD 107). Minority voting strength would have rapidly increased in these districts over the decade, making them legally performing and protected minority opportunity districts in the future.  Minority voting rights should be restored in all four districts.

Dallas is just the best example.  This diffusion of naturally occurring concentrations of minority voters happened in Tarrant, Harris, McLennan, Collin, and Denton Counties. Voting rights lawyers have made formal claims in Tarrant (HDs 93 and 96); McLennan (HDs 56 and 57) and in the far western part of Harris County (HDs 132 and 135).

Most minority population growth now occurs in the metropolitan areas of the state; and will in the future.  But the citizen voting age populations are not moving to concentrated inner-city neighborhoods to be with people who look like themselves.  They are moving to the aging and close-in suburbs of these big counties. There is better housing there. Such mixed ethnicity neighborhoods of Hispanics, Asians, Blacks and others are our future.

If those many hundreds of thousands of minority citizens living in these mixed neighborhoods are allowed to be deprived of their rightful voice in the legislature; then minority legislators collectively may never again gain a critical mass of leverage in the legislature sufficient to be “at the table” and effectively representing their communities.

In 2009, with a State House closely divided, minority legislators were part of an informal governing coalition.

In 2011, with Anglo Republicans controlling 100 seats out of 150, minority legislators were isolated and effectively out of power.  They remain so.

This voting rights litigation will not be a success if only a small hand full of single-minority-majority seats are created here and there. This litigation is about the voting rights of the New Texas in the major metropolitan areas of the state.

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Redistricting status in Texas from thirty thousand feet

I’ve been watching this redistricting mess play out with great interest, and a healthy level of both amusement and empathy for all involved.

From the start, the state’s legal team has struggled. It might surprise some readers that I don’t particularly blame Attorney General Greg Abbott and his legal team for this, although a lot of people (including Republicans) are. After all, you try defending the crap-ass maps the legislature passed. If Abbott’s team can’t do it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Abbott’s team is goofball-infested. Defending the indefensible is pretty rough work. The state’s whole legal effort reminds me of situations in which criminal defense attorneys artfully defend perps who damn well did it.

Various plaintiffs have struggled as well. It’s hard to know the right thing to do sometimes. Some have showed up for court every day loaded for bear and ready to rumble. Others have, like the Jack of beanstalk fame, been tempted to trade it all, for a handful of beans.

Much of my empathy has been reserved for the judges involved. I’ve never empathized more than I did during yesterday’s court hearing in San Antonio, in which it was incredibly easy to get lost in the minutia of hundreds of details having more to do with the mechanics of putting on an election than in the overriding issues involved with ensuring that districts maintain their fundamental purpose – giving all voters an effective voice in their representation.

The perfect example of the fundamentals: at yesterday’s hearing, a settlement was announced on the state Senate map. The legislature had passed a status quo map, with the exception of trying to get rid of Wendy Davis in Fort Worth. Maybe it’s because they can’t hear women’s voices. Setting aside my personal fondness for Davis, there’s nothing illegal about getting rid of her. What is illegal is how the state went about it, and the affect of doing it – they silenced the voices of the minority voters who elect Davis. Here’s a pro tip: if you want to get rid of Wendy Davis, I suggest you do so in the time-honored old fashioned way – by lying your ass off about her and convincing her constituents they need to fire her.

Why would we imagine that the state would settle on that map? Lawyers settle nothing until lawyers have to. It was established in testimony, both in D.C. and San Antonio, that map-drawers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in Davis’ district by fragmenting them, and that’s illegal. That’s what the legislature’s map did, that’s what forced the state to settle, and that’s the reason Wendy Davis’ voters will still have a voice in the Texas Senate after the next election.

It’s a similar situation regarding courtroom conversations on Congressional maps. The state’s lawyers  agreed not to oppose a new proposed compromise district in the D/FW metroplex, which would likely elect the candidate of minorities’ choice, in order to address claims of intentional discrimination by fragmenting minorities.

Yesterday a couple of the (probably exhausted and flabbergasted) judges wondered aloud if the bulk of the courtroom squabbling regarding the map for the state House of Representatives is only about a couple of districts.

Well, no. It’s not about whether there are 50 or 52 solidly minority districts. It’s about minority Texans continuing to have a voice in the districts beyond the hard core 50. It’s about the state’s efforts to silence those voices in many more than two chunks of geography. And that, in turn, is about whether legislators who represent those minorities are able to participate in meaningful dialog on legislation, or whether those legislators, like in the most recent legislative session, merely look on as witnesses, as an artificially-inflated majority assaults their constituents by cutting public education by billions, harassing them with voter photo I.D. laws, or ignoring attempts to make health care affordable to folks in their neighborhoods.

Texas has a majority minority population. There are 150 seats in the state House. The squabbling in court should not be about whether 52(ish) of those 150 districts should be the geography in which minority voices are heard.

If you’re the “quantify it” type, in addition to those 52(ish) seats, minority citizens were also decisive in electing their candidates of choice in House districts 57, 93, 96, 101, 102, 107, and 133. Minority citizens are also naturally emerging as effective deciders of their own fate in districts 26, 105, 132, and 138.

So if the remaining argument is about “just a couple of state House districts,” it’s only because lawyers cleverly, or foolishly, narrowed the focus. It’s not because minority voters in many, many other areas of Texas evaporated, were raptured, or suddenly moved to Detroit after Clint Eastwood inspired them during the Superbowl. And while the priorities of those Texans are just as real as the priorities of those living in Wendy Davis’ district, or the proposed new metroplex Congressional district, their communities are being fragmented in the exact same way, and for the same purpose: to silence their voices.

So, moving forward from yesterday’s hearing, let’s get back to the thirty thousand foot view. We now have a probable primary date, and that’s progress. There are continuing discussions about how the political parties mechanically make that primary date work, and that’s just spiffy. But please do not for a minute conclude that all the legal wranglings associated with this situation are about mechanics, legislative body counts, election calendar predictability, where Lloyd Doggett is forced to move his yard signs next, or the electability of any particular human being. And it is most certainly not about two remaining House seats still in question.

I don’t worry too much about the judges – judges have an advanced ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. But reading the resulting news stories this morning, I do worry about everybody getting lost in the mechanical weeds.

In the end, the final districts should be about ensuring that the minority citizens of this majority-minority state are not silenced due to efforts to fragment them into adjoining districts in which they have no voice. In the end, the districts should reflect an understanding of the difference between ramming policy down the throats of the legislators elected to represent those minorities, versus those legislators being enabled to participate in meaningful dialog affecting final legislative outcomes. That’s what it should have always been about.

Update: Burnt Orange Report has more on this.

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