Not when Republicans control the Senate and House. State Democrats and progressive advocacy groups are already convinced the GOP will use its power to draw new state legislative and U.S. Congressional maps that will give Republicans an even greater electoral advantage than they already enjoy.
As the third straight special session of the Texas Legislature begins on Monday, the main item on the agenda is the messy, high-stakes process of drawing new voting maps for the Lone Star State.
Adding to Democrats’ distrust that their Republican colleagues will draw new maps in good faith are the rumors that have been swirling in recent days that preliminary maps of new districts for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senate have already been drawn in private.
These maps allegedly create 20 seats Republicans would have a hard time losing and 11 seats likely to be won by Democrats, which would lead to a shift in the Senate’s current partisan balance of 18 Republicans versus 13 Democrats.
"We will see what happens, but what we know is that our leaders unfortunately have a track record of voter suppression and of drawing racially discriminatory maps, and so we have to remain extra vigilant in this legislative session,” said Charlie Bonner, Communications Director for the progressive advocacy group MOVE Texas.
Texas’ latest round of redistricting won’t only affect which party controls the state Legislature — the way new voting maps are drawn by the Republicans who control the statehouse could also determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2022 election.
“Make no mistake,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) in a Friday event ahead of the new special session. “There are four states in this country that will control the balance of the U.S. House majority for this nation. It is Texas, it is Florida, it is North Carolina, and it is Georgia.”
“There are 94 seats in those states, and how those maps are drawn by the Republicans that are in charge, in my opinion, will decide where the next U.S. House majority is going to lie,” Fischer added.
With Republicans firmly in control of both the state House and Senate, the GOP holds all the cards in the redistricting process set to officially begin this week, a controversial ritual that typically happens every ten years in line with when the U.S. Census gives a new count of the country’s population.
This year’s redistricting process will factor in two brand new U.S. Congressional districts awarded to Texas due to our state’s population growth. Pre-census projections estimated that Texas would actually gain three new seats in Congress, but Democrats have called the latest census an undercount of Texas’ true population.
That criticism comes because the Republican-led legislature didn’t approve any spending to aid in the 2020 census count, and due to accusations that former President Donald Trump’s racially-charged rhetoric and threats to include questions about residents’ citizenship status may have led to fewer Texans of color to respond to the census in the first place.
“To be perfectly honest, while the majority of the growth was due to people of color, I absolutely without any equivocation can tell you that we still suffered from a huge undercount,” said state Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas).
This year’s redistricting process is happening later than usual due to the pandemic-induced delay of the official 2020 U.S. Census count, as new state population stats didn’t arrive until August when they typically become public early in the calendar year during the Legislature’s regular session.
State Democrats have already filed a lawsuit attempting to block the GOP-led Legislature from drawing maps in the latest special session based on a parsing of the state constitution’s language that redistricting shall occur in the first regular legislative session after the census results are published. If the Democratic lawsuit succeeds, a federal judge would draw temporary maps for 2022 races and the Legislature would then re-draw them during the 2023 session, but the lawsuit isn’t expected to pan out in the Dems’ favor, especially given the 100 percent Republican makeup of the Texas Supreme Court.
Upon being named chair of the state’s redistricting committee in February, state Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) swore he’d make sure new maps were drawn fairly. “The work of redistricting is never easy,” Hunter wrote in a statement. “But I am fully committed to a fair process, and I look forward to working with my fellow members of this committee on the task at hand.”
Despite promises from Hunter and other GOP leaders that this year’s map-drawing process will be transparent and fair, it’s undisputed that every set of voting maps created by the Texas Legislature since the federal Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 were found by federal courts to have violated the law’s provisions on discriminating against minorities.
But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that Texas and other states with histories of drawing discriminatory maps had to have those maps pre-approved by the federal government. That makes this round of redistricting the first in decades where Republican lawmakers won’t have to get the okay from the feds before drawing new districts however they see fit.
On Friday, Texas Democrats raised the specter of partisan gerrymandering, the practice of drawing legislative maps to give an unfair political advantage to a particular party based on “creatively” drawing oddly-shaped districts. The odd shapes of these gerrymandered districts aren’t decided based on the outlines of existing communities, but in a way that carves voters into groups that the ruling party expects to vote in a predictable way.
State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) argued Friday that “If we allow Republicans to gerrymander the states like they have done before in Texas, in a discriminatory fashion, then the fix is in before the game even begins.”
Bonner argued that Texans concerned about potential Republican attempts to stack the deck further against Democrats through the redistricting process should speak up in the upcoming public hearings on redistricting in Austin. He said they should also continue to put pressure on the U.S. Senate to pass new federal voting legislation that would restore the requirement that Texas and other states with discriminatory map-drawing records would have to get those maps pre-approved by the federal government.
“If we allow Republicans to gerrymander the states like they have done before in Texas, in a discriminatory fashion, then the fix is in before the game even begins." — State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin)
“We have to look at what is actually happening in this state: rapid growth in urban areas led by young people of color,” Bonner said. “The changing political landscape here is that elections statewide are getting closer and closer.”
“And if we are making a state [where] our representatives do not resemble that whatsoever, we’re moving in the opposite direction of where the actual trends of real Texans are moving. And it really is shameful to see the lengths to which our leaders will go to hold on to power instead of actually representing their constituents,” he continued.