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gerrymandering

Demonstrators protest against gerrymandering at a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 26, 2019, during the cases Lamone v. Benisek and Rucho v. Common Cause. (Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Washington Post via Getty Images)

Texas GOP's Gerrymandering Plan Reveals 'Ominous'—and Deeply Racist—Threat to US Democracy

If congressional Democrats don't act fast, they "could soon be powerless to stop the GOP's takeover of the U.S. House and state Capitols for the next decade," warned one voting rights expert.

Kenny Stancil

After Texas Republican lawmakers on Monday approved congressional and state legislative maps that would disenfranchise communities of color and cement GOP power for at least 10 years, voting rights advocates implored Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill to take immediate federal action to ban racial and partisan gerrymandering—anti-democratic ploys likely to be copied in other Southern battleground states as redistricting proceeds.

"At a time when Texas is becoming more diverse and Democratic," journalist and author Ari Berman wrote Monday in Mother Jones, "the new maps drawn by Republicans for Congress and the state Legislature would make the state's political representation far whiter and more Republican, all but ending competition at the very moment when ascendant Democrats are finally making the state competitive."

As Berman explained:

White voters have been a minority in Texas since 2004 and over the past decade 95% of the state's growth came from communities of color, but the GOP's proposed congressional map increases the number of white Republican districts and decreases the number of majority-Latino and majority-Black districts. It packs minority voters into as few urban areas as possible in cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston to limit their representation, while spreading out the rest among deeply red exurban and rural areas to nullify their influence. Despite gaining nearly two million Hispanic residents and more than 500,000 Black residents since 2010, Republicans didn't draw a single new majority-Latino or majority-Black congressional district. Instead, the two new House seats the state gained due to population growth were given to majority-white areas in Austin and Houston.

Republican House candidates won 53% of the statewide vote in 2020 but would hold a projected 65% of seats under the new lines, which were approved by the state Senate redistricting committee on Monday. The number of safe GOP seats would double, from 11 to 22, while the number of competitive districts would fall from 12 to just one. Nine Texas House Republicans... currently hold seats in districts won by Biden or where Trump won by five points or less, but they're all drawn into districts that Trump would have carried by double digits. This will push state and national politics even further to the right, as Republicans worry more about primary challengers than Democratic opponents.

On Twitter, Berman shared an illustration that contrasts Texas' 24th congressional district in its current form with what the district could look like for at least the next decade if Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Congress refuse to swiftly repeal the Senate's 60-vote filibuster rule and pass pro-democracy reforms.

By "surgically removing minority communities" in the fast-growing and increasingly diverse Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, Berman noted, Texas Republicans' proposed map would transform the 24th congressional district from one that President Joe Biden carried by five points in 2020 into one that would have given former President Donald Trump a 12-point victory.

"This will push state and national politics even further to the right, as Republicans worry more about primary challengers than Democratic opponents."
—Ari Berman, journalist

According to Berman, "The same level of gerrymandering is a defining feature of the maps drawn for the state Legislature, where Republicans are desperately trying to insulate themselves from accountability after passing a flurry of extreme laws this year, such as a six-week abortion ban, permission for residents to carry guns without a permit, and a sweeping voter suppression law."

Allowing the Texas GOP's anti-democratic plan to stand, Berman stressed, would "dilute the voting power of people of color"—giving Republicans a significant boost while hindering Democrats and harming representative government as a whole:

Under the GOP's proposed map for the state Senate, 20 of 31 districts would have white majorities, even though white people make up just under 40% of the state's population. The number of pro-Trump districts increases from 16 to 19.

The proposed state House map, like the congressional map, would also create more white districts and fewer districts where Black and Hispanic people make up a majority of eligible voters. The number of majority white districts would rise from 83 to 89 out of 150, while the number of Latino districts shrinks from 33 to 30, and the number of Black districts falls from seven to four. The map creates 10 more pro-Trump districts, giving the GOP close to 60% of seats after Democrats came close to retaking the chamber in recent elections.

In its analysis of state Republican lawmakers' proposed redistricting maps, The Texas Tribune also highlighted the overrepresentation of white Texans, who are more likely to vote for Republicans, and the underrepresentation of Hispanic and Black Texans, who are more likely vote for Democrats. This "strategy of political discrimination," the newspaper argued, comes "perilously close to racial discrimination."

According to the Tribune:

A perfect match in the 150-member Texas House, if the mix of the overall population was your guide, would be 60 districts with white majorities instead of the 89 in the proposed map, 59 Hispanic-majority districts instead of 30, 18 Black districts instead of four, and eight districts with Asian majorities instead of none.

A perfect match of representation to population is practically impossible. The groups are scattered, and the gerrymandering required would be staggering. Even so, it's hard to explain the fairness of proposed maps that have 39.8% of the Texas population—the white part—represented by 60.2% of the Texas Legislature; 39.3%—Hispanic Texans—represented by 20.4%; 11.8%—Black Texans—by 2.8%; and 5.4%—Asian Texans—by none at all.

Texas Republicans' scheme "is an ominous sign of things to come in other Southern battleground states," Berman warned. "Republicans need just five seats to take back the House and could accomplish this through gerrymandering in Texas, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina."

"If the Freedom to Vote Act was there, this [Texas] map would be instantly blocked."
—Michael Li, Brennan Center for Justice

In early August, before the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest decennial data used by state governments for redistricting, progressives—already dismayed by the right-wing assault on ballot access—sounded the alarm about the looming gerrymandering frenzy and urged congressional Democrats to prevent Republicans from carrying out an anti-democratic power grab that would have long-lasting consequences for human rights and the climate crisis.

Senate Democrats failed to abolish the filibuster and join their House counterparts in passing the For the People Act—a popular and far-reaching bill that would require independent redistricting commissions and also includes anti-corruption provisions as well as measures to neutralize the GOP's nationwide flurry of voter suppression laws and bills—prior to that mid-August deadline. 

Last month, however, Democratic senators did introduce the Freedom to Vote Act. If the filibuster is reformed or scrapped and the legislation passed, it would outlaw racial and partisan gerrymandering of the sort being pushed by Republican lawmakers in states such as Texas and Georgia.

"If the Freedom to Vote Act was there, this [Texas] map would be instantly blocked," Michael Li of the Brennan Center for Justice told Berman.

With Republican lawmakers' proposed redistricting maps set to become law in just a matter of days or weeks, Berman emphasized, "Democrats are running out of time to pass it or devise a strategy for overcoming a GOP filibuster—and could soon be powerless to stop the GOP's takeover of the U.S. House and state Capitols for the next decade."


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