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Sunday , June 17 2018
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Tag Archives: texas redistricting

Analysis: How do They Cheat Thee? Count the Ways

Texas isn’t the most unfairly redistricted state — if you use the measure cited by lawyers arguing this week before the U.S. Supreme Court — but the maps we use to elect people to Congress and the Texas Legislature are rigged in favor of the Republican majority.

When the Democrats were in charge, they were rigged in favor of that majority.

This isn’t news, really: Americans started cheating at political maps as soon as they started using them.

Where there is an argument, you’ll find lawyers, and grinding litigation over redistricting is common here and all over the country. The Texas maps still being argued in federal court started their legal path in the 2011 Legislature. By the time the courts settle them, they’ll be out of date; the 2020 census will begin another round of mapmaking in 2021. Litigation, too, if history holds.

What is news is that the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding in a Wisconsin case whether a political map can be so biased that it cheats voters out of their constitutional right to representation.

One way to measure that is called an “efficiency gap” — the difference between the number of votes a winning candidate needs and the number that candidate actually gets.

Under the state’s current maps, Texas Republicans hold 3.2 more congressional seats than they would under “fair” maps, according to research by three political scientists — Mark Jones of Rice University’s Baker Institute and Renée Cross and Jim Granato of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. The state’s congressional delegation has 25 Republicans and 11 Democrats; a three-seat swing would make it 22-14 — still a Republican majority, but a smaller one.

In the Texas Senate, by their reckoning, Republicans would have one less seat, leaving them with a 19-12 advantage. In the House, the Republican maps add seven members to their roster who would otherwise be on the Democratic side.

It’s not just Republicans. Michael Li of the Brennan Center for Justice analyzed partisan bias in the state’s congressional maps from 1992 to the present. The maps used between 1992 and 2002, drawn by Democratic majorities in the Texas Legislature and approved by federal courts, boosted that party’s congressional share by three to five seats.

The Supremes are deciding whether and how they want to get into a political morass that could lead to judges deciding on which maps are fair far more often than they do now. It’s hard to do without some bright line distinguishing hardball politics from unconstitutional hardball politics. Some advocates have suggested a two-seat threshold for congressional maps, meaning politics could bend a map that far without verging into constitutional trouble.

The Texas litigation centers on racial bias in the maps used here — on a contention that the maps over-represent whites at the expense of Hispanic and black voters. Race is, in practical terms, a proxy for party: White Texans are more likely to be Republicans, and minority voters are more likely to be Democrats. The mapmakers contend their intentions were political, not racial, and don’t violate laws designed to protect minority voters. Li’s look at the current Texas maps shows a drop in the efficiency gap when federal judges fixed minority underrepresentation.

You see where the Wisconsin case might affect things here and elsewhere: If politics can be stretched far enough to violate voters’ constitutional rights, that politics/race argument could melt. A partisan gerrymander wouldn’t necessarily remain more acceptable than a racial one.

You can blame voters for a lot of what’s wrong in elections, but there’s a chicken-and-egg smell to it.

Elections slip past most adults — some elections (primaries, for instance) slip past most voters. Last November, almost 9 million Texans voted and about 6.1 million registered voters didn’t show up. The non-vote outdid each of the presidential candidates (Donald Trump led with 4.7 million votes).

It’s tempting to blame lazy citizens instead of lawmakers for unrepresentative government; they could vote if they wanted, right? Democracy requires activity from the people who want to be represented. And the people who get elected now are, in fact, representative of the people who vote. Gripe about redistricting — you have plenty to gripe about, by the way — but if you really want the attention of the people in power, get together a mob of voters they’ve never seen before. It shouldn’t be that hard: That pool of potential Texas voters who didn’t turn out in 2016 — 7.2 million eligible adults — is bigger than the population of all but 13 states.

On the other hand, those non-voters might know just what they’re doing. Maybe they know about the political maps and have decided not to waste their time on rigged elections.

Disclosure: Rice University and the University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Winning some more seats in the congressional delegation or the Legislature would make Texas Democrats happy, but the real prize at stake in the state’s redistricting legislation is federal oversight of the state’s Republican mapmakers. [Full story]
  • Democrats have some chances to pick up seats in the Texas House next year, with a dozen Republicans defending seats in politically wobbly districts. But watch those redistricting judges in San Antonio before you make any bets. [Full story]
  • Texas lawmakers have now been popped by federal judges seven or eight times in recent years for intentionally discriminating against minority voters in with voter ID and redistricting legislation. Think they’ve got a problem? [Full story]

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

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Texas House Map Must be Redrawn, Federal Court Says

Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color.  In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts. 

These are the nine districts the court flagged:

Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.

The 83-page decision was the latest twist in a six-year-legal battle. The judges had already ruled that the Texas Legislature intentionally sought to weaken the strength of Latino and black voters while drawing the House map in 2011. 

But the 2011 map never actually took effect because the court drew temporary maps ahead of the 2012 elections. State lawmakers formally adopted the map in 2013 with few changes. Texas has used that map for the past three election cycles.

In adopting the 2013 map, the court ruled on Thursday that lawmakers “purposefully maintained the intentional discrimination” found in the previous map.

The ruling came the week after the same court invalidated two Texas congressional districts — CD 27, represented by Republican Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi, and CD 35, represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — and ruled that intentional discrimination against voters of color required those districts to be redrawn.

In both the congressional and state House rulings, the court ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton to signal whether the Legislature would take up redistricting to fix violations in the maps.

But so far, state leaders have signaled they have no appetite to call lawmakers back to Austin over mapmaking. Instead, Texas is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep its political boundaries intact.

“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said in a Thursday statement. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”

Meanwhile, the state and the parties that sued over the congressional districts are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to begin redrawing the congressional map. In its Thursday ruling, the court indicated they should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map.

“Today’s ruling once again found that Texas racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing plaintiffs in the case. “With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all.”

Thursday’s ruling was largely a win for MALDEF and other minority rights groups that sued the state, and it marks Paxton’s fourth voting rights loss in nine days. That includes the Congressional map ruling, a ruling that tossed out the state’s new voter identification law and another ruling that a state restriction on language interpreters at the polls violates the Voting Rights Act.

An open question is whether judges will approve new boundaries without delaying the March 2018 primaries. A delay could further shake up some races, with echoes of 2012, when Ted Cruz scored an upset victory, thanks in part to primaries delayed by legal wrangling.

Local elections administrators say they need clarity by October to meet deadlines for sending out voter registration cards, and December is the filing deadline for candidates.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A barrage of court rulings has forced Texas leaders to confront whether they strayed too far in enacting voting laws found to have disproportionately burdened minorities. [Full story]
  • Federal judges have invalidated two of Texas’ 36 congressional districts, setting up a scramble to redraw them ahead of the 2018 elections. [Full story]
  • The outcome of a voting rights fight over Pasadena Hispanics’ right to choose their city council members could reverberate beyond the city limits of this Houston suburb. [Full story]

Author:  ALEXA URA AND JIM MALEWITZ – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: A 2018 Texas Legislative Battle Map, Federal Courts Willing

The three federal judges hearing the latest arguments in the state’s redistricting case could make significant changes to the makeup of the Texas House — if they decide to change the maps before next year’s elections. If they don’t — or if the changes they make are relatively minor — not very many House districts are competitive in a general election.

The Texas Senate is out of the court’s reach; the political maps for those 31 seats were agreed to and blessed by both the courts and the state years ago. With a couple of exceptions, they’re not very competitive — at least in general elections. Democrats have a virtual lock on 10 seats, Republicans on 17. In the remaining seats, statewide Republican candidates and statewide Democratic candidates finished, on average, fewer than 10 percentage points apart in last November’s election.

Fifteen Senate seats will be on next year’s ballot.

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, is the incumbent in the closest district, where Donald Trump squeaked past Hillary Clinton by 0.59 percent — 1,806 votes out of more than 308,000 cast. Other candidates on the Republican side outperformed the president, winning by an average of 46.8 percentage points.

Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, represents a district where Republican and Democratic statewide candidates, on average, finished 8.9 percentage points apart. His is the only Republican Senate district where Clinton beat Trump (by 4.7 percentage points). Huffines wasn’t on the 2016 ballot, but he’s gearing up for a 2018 re-election bid.

Republicans did better in the district represented by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston — winning by an average of 12.2 percentage points in statewide races. But Trump’s winning margin was a mere 0.89 percentage points. Huffman’s seat will be on the 2018 ballot.

In the House, all 150 seats will be on the 2018 ballot; statewide candidates finished at least 10 percentage points apart in all but 14 of those districts. Put another way, in 83 districts, Republicans won by at least 10 percentage points in the average contested statewide race. In 53 districts, the average statewide Democratic candidate won by 10 percentage points or more. (For the state as a whole, the average Republican won by 14.1 percentage points in 2016.)

The 14 seats where the margins were in single digits make up a preliminary target list. That’s unfortunate for the GOP because only two of the target seats are currently held by Democrats. Conversely, the list has Democrats dreaming of chances to cut into the 95-55 Republican advantage in the Texas House. What’s more, Clinton won in all but three of those seats, hinting at possible trouble for Republicans who will be running in the first midterm election of the Trump presidency.

Which incumbents have trouble in the rearview mirrors? Democrats Victoria Neave of Dallas and Philip Cortez of San Antonio; and Republicans Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Linda Koop of Dallas, Matt Rinaldi of Irving, Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale, Sarah Davis of West University Place, Tony Dale of Cedar Park, Angie Chen Button of Richardson, J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, Jason Villalba of Dallas, Larry Gonzales of Round Rock, Gary Elkins of Houston and Dwayne Bohac of Houston.

The federal judges way up there in the first sentence could change all of this. They’re at the end of a week of hearings over the congressional and Texas House political maps adopted in 2013 (after 2011 maps were tossed out as unconstitutional) to decide whether the state’s mapmakers cheated any of the state’s voters out of their electoral influence.

If those judges decide the maps in use aren’t fair, the lines could be changed before the 2018 primaries and, with them, the odds for the incumbent members and incumbent parties in each district.

Texas Democrats start the election cycle with a reasonable chance to pick up a handful of House seats. They’re hoping the courts put more districts in play. But they’d need to flip 21 seats to regain the majority they lost in the 2002 elections. That’s a stretch.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • It’s true that three of the Republican incumbents in the Texas congressional delegation live in districts where Donald Trump lost, but unless judges change the state’s political maps, two of those districts are still dominated by the GOP. [link]
  • Winning some more seats in the congressional delegation or the Legislature would make Texas Democrats happy, but the real prize at stake in the state’s redistricting legislation is federal oversight of the state’s Republican mapmakers. [link]

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

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