Redistricting 2021–A Call to Action

Do voters select politicians, or do politicians select voters? This question will be decided over the next several months as Texas and other states use the 2020 census data to redraw congressional, state senate, and state house districts. If we can be guided by the past, the answer will be, in most cases, and certainly in Texas, the latter. Politicians will do the selecting.

This inversion of democracy is made possible by our laws that allow elected officials, people who have a very personal interest in the outcome, to draw district lines. Just because it has historically been so, doesn’t mean that it must always be that way. Some states have adopted nonpartisan models for redistricting, using nonpartisan commissions or professional staff. Those models work.

We need to contact our representatives in each house and the members of the special
committees and tell them:

  • We want fair maps that:
    • Respect communities of interest
    • Respect civic boundaries
    • Are compact
    • Are contiguous
  • We want maps drawn by a nonpartisan body
  • We want transparency and public involvement in the process

Why We Should Care

We should all care about this redistricting process for several reasons:

• Our representation in the various bodies from Congress to the state House does not represent the will of the voters. The chart illustrates the results in 1992 and 2018, under two different parties. The party in control got a disproportionate share of seats.

Percent Votes and Congressional Seats
  • Our representatives will not look like our population. The chart below shows the racial make-up of the current state legislature compared to the state. With the new census data, the state is now roughly 60/40, people of color versus white.
  • Voters are deprived of choice as more districts are drawn with “safe” boundaries. In 2016:
    • Eighty-one of 150 Texas House seats were uncontested
    • Sixty-six percent of the legislature was decided before a vote was cast in the general election
    • Ninety-seven percent of incumbents were returned to office
  • Safe districts tend to move the real elections to the primaries, where more ideological voters take part. This tends to move candidates toward the ideological extremes of their parties, increasing polarization.
  • Communities of interest are lost. When a community is split into several districts, who really represents the interests of that community? The community may be concerned about an historic site, a flooding problem, a commercial development, or any number of other things. If that community has several representatives, who represent many other communities as well, all must be communicated with, and all must be asked to move the community concern higher on their total list. In reality, the community has little representation.

The New Census Data

The recently released census data gives us some insight into how important redistricting is for Texas in 2021.

  • Texas gained more people than any other state over the last decade.
  • Because of its gains relative to other states, it will have two more seats in the US House.
  • Ninety-five percent of the population growth was in populations of color.
  • The Hispanic population is now nearly equal to the white population.
  • Both Black and Asian populations, despite their relatively small share of the total population, grew more in absolute numbers than whites.
  • Forty-four percent of the growth happened in five counties: Bexar, Harris, Tarrant, Dallas, and Travis.
  • Growth was in the urban and suburban areas. One hundred eleven (111) counties lost population. The map to the right illustrates population changes.

Since the current minority party has historically done well in the urban areas and with minority groups, this information should be bad news for the majority party, but creative map drawing may save them.

Creative Maps

Creative map drawing can be seen in the current congressional districts around Austin (see congressional district map below).

Austin is touched by six congressional districts. The incumbents in five of those districts are from the majority party. The single member from the minority party is in the 35th district, that narrow line of blue that stretches all the way from Austin to San Antonio, along the I-35 corridor. It contains voters who tend toward the minority party in Austin, San Marcos, and San Antonio.

The other five districts in the Austin area effectively crack the voting power of the city, combining those voters with majority leaning voters in the surrounding countryside. The 21st is a good example. It parallels the 35th, touching on both Austin and San Antonio. Unlike the 35th, it is very wide, including such diverse places as Kerrville and Fredericksburg.

Are the interests of any of the area communities or citizens really represented by these contrived districts? The interests of the party drawing the maps are represented, they retain the majority.

The Process

The process used in Texas to produce new district boundaries is somewhat fluid. We will have a special session for the topic starting on September 20. Each of the houses have special committees on redistricting. The census data is now being prepared so that it can be used in the districting process. Presumably, each house will follow a process to produce maps that includes some public hearings.

If you need help finding the words, please check out this page for suggested language for letters or emails.

Find Your Elected Officials

You can click here to find your elected officials and send them email notes.

This is important for the future of our democracy in Texas and in the nation. Take action. Make your views known.

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