AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Legislative Council said Thursday it could be possible for a special session to be called over the summer of 2021 for redistricting after the Census Bureau has faced serious delays due to the pandemic.
The Census Bureau missed its December 31 deadline already, with a new deadline of February 9 set. But this week, a Department of Justice attorney warned there could be even more delays after more irregularities in the count were discovered.
That delays the data states, including Texas, will rely on for redistricting this year.
“The data that was due to be presented to the President, by the end of the year by the 31st of December, that’s a portion of data, that’s only state totals,” executive director of the Texas Legislative Council Jeff Archer explained.
“But the detailed, block by block data comes out later. And that’s normally April 1, is the statutory deadline,” Archer continued, “That could come substantially later.”
“They’re already providing contingencies for you know, another delay,” Texas Politics Project director Jim Henson said.
The Census Bureau issued a statement, explaining its deadlines are fluid at this time.
“We continue to process the data collected and plan to deliver a complete and accurate state population count for apportionment in early 2021,” the Bureau said in a statement.
Archer said the delays due to the pandemic were expected, and the Census Bureau actually pushed for an extension early on.
“There was actual proposal to Congress from the Census Bureau, at least from some portions of the Census Bureau bureaucracy, asking for postponement till the summer till June, July August timeframe, so that they could do the census in the normal ways,” Archer said.
Now, it’s possible that data won’t make it to the states before the 87th Legislative Session concludes on May 31.
“That increases the probability that the legislature will not get even the state level redistricting done during the regular session.”
Archer said that could lead to a special session over the summer.
“The Governor controls that. But if you don’t, plaintiffs are going to sue that the current districts are invalid, because they have one-person, one-vote,” Archer said. One-person, one-vote refers to the notion that a single person’s voting power should be equal to another person’s within the same state.
“If they don’t have a special session, courts will be faced with the prospect of either allowing the current districts to stay in effect for another election cycle, which, generally there’s a lot of reasons to disfavor that, because that’s one-fifth of the decade you’ve got malapportioned districts. In other words, unequal representation,” Archer said.
He said there are exceptions, though. For example, if lawmakers receive the data during the regular session, but aren’t able to make a plan in time, it could fall back on the Legislative Redistricting Board instead.
“If the legislature receives the census during the regular session, and does not complete a House or Senate plan, that board has backup jurisdiction, basically. They can convene within 90 days, so as late as the end of the summer, and then they have 60 days to adopt the House or Senate plan,” Archer explained.
The Legislative Redistricting Board is comprised of the Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, Attorney General, Commissioner of the General Land Office and the Comptroller.
Why Redistricting Matters
The U.S. Constitution requires the redrawing of congressional districts every 10 years, based on new census counts.
“It’s fundamental, because it creates the basis in which people vote for their legislative representatives,” Henson explained, “It’s through this process, the principles like one-person, one-vote, the quality of representation are all and the sanctity of elections are all preserved.”
With the Texas population expected to increase in the 2020 count, that means more representation.
“Texas will gain probably three new seats in its congressional delegation. So there’ll be new districts drawn for people,” Henson said.
The redrawing of districts is usually influenced most by the party with the majority in the state.
“In Texas, that’s the Republican Party, and has been for the last two cycles, this will be the third one is largely in control of that process,” Henson explained.
That can often lead to gerrymandering.
“That is the effort to draw the lines in a way which conform to federal law in the constitution and judicial precedent, but which also provide parsing advantages for the people that are drawing the maps,” Henson said.
“It’s both intrinsic to democracy, and also always very problematic, because of the way that that that represented that process of organizing representation, if you will, is subject to partisan and individual goals,” Henson concluded.