Drawing the Lines
by State Senator Kel Seliger
State Senator (later Ambassador) Teel Bivins once said that legislative redistricting was the most partisan and contentious activity that he was exposed to in his years in the Senate. Neither this fact, nor the fact that for at least a generation, redistricting has been as much about lawsuits as it has legislation, motivated the Lieutenant Governor to choose me to chair the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting earlier this year. I think.
Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and corresponding state provisions dictate that, after each decennial census, the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives be formulaically apportioned to the 50 states. Individual states are to then adjust the political lines to conform to the new census count.
The 2010 Census yielded a count of nearly 309 million Americans and just over 25 million Texans. Redistricting is the legislative process of conforming the geographical boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts to reach very nearly equivalent populations. It is this process by which we, the 82nd Legislature, will design congressional districts containing about 698,000 people each, State Senate districts with around 811,000 residents each, and State House districts with about 168,000 residents each.
What do these numbers tell us? We received the initial population data for Texas from the U.S. Census Bureau on December 21st. This data, however, is far from what we need to draw maps, but it is very important. It told us that Texas will get four additional U.S. Congressmen, and states like Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and New York will lose one or two seats to Western and Southern states. This is great news for Texas because it means that 36 men and women will go to Washington, D.C. with the interests of the Lone Star State among their highest priorities, while today we are represented by 32 members. But it will not be until sometime between mid-February and the statutory deadline of April 1, that we know exactly in which counties, precincts, and even city blocks that Texans are living.
It is also at that time that we will know the ethnic composition of those populations, so we can draw maps that meet the requirements of law and that are fair. Texas is one of several states that must comply with both Sections 2 and 5 of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Act). While every state in the Union must comply with Section 2 of the Act, Texas must obtain preclearance from either the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts, as required by Section 5 of the Act. Generally speaking, the Voting Rights Act provides that districts cannot be drawn that will deprive a minority group of the opportunity to elect a representative of its choice. The Act further dictates that members of a minority cannot be packed into one district so numerously that they would be deprived of the opportunity to influence the political outcome of an adjacent district.
These legal requirements, both in statute and in judicial precedents, frame one of the guiding principles of this process. We must have a process and a product that is legal. I have already been informed that if a particular goal of one group is not attained, then they will file suit. I cannot determine yet if the relevant numbers will reach that goal, but we must be sure as the process develops and maps are drawn that they are drawn with a careful eye on the law. To that end, our committee has availed itself of some of the best legal counsel available, and it is my intention to listen carefully to them.
Fairness means something different to every observer. At our outreach hearings around the state, we heard that fairness means proportionality. For example, if 60 percent of the states four million new citizens are Latino, then that proportion should be reflected in the maps. To some people, fairness requires that all of the citizens in a municipality are represented by the same Congressman, State Senator, or State Representative, if possible. One speaker thought that it would only be fair if that area was represented by the incumbent member of Congress, and another group asserted that a neighborhood and the community center that is the social focal point of that area should be in one district. There will be lots of discussion of "communities of common interest" and how they should be grouped together. These can include neighboring communities and areas of common economic activity.
I believe this process will be more transparent and interactive than ever before. Texas uses proprietary software called RED APPL to draw maps and keep a statistical record of every line and change. There will be work stations available to the public in the Capitol Complex along with assistance from the experts at the Legislative Council, so that the public can draw maps and submit them for consideration like the members of the legislature will do.
While some of the motivation revealed throughout this process may appear petty, the outcome is important. It will be a map that determines who represents Texans in the U.S. Congress and in the State Legislature for the next ten years.