AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – While the restructuring of Texas’ district maps was inevitable after the 2020 census was completed, a growing list of lawsuits against how the state government grouped together land and voters could impact the 2022 elections in ways voters may not expect. Here’s a look at the current state of Texas’ congressional and senate districts, and how the High Plains could be impacted in the near future.
The 2020 census and the Texas Legislature
Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas were among states that, according to 2020 census data, benefitted the most from population growth. Amarillo saw an increase in the population of about 1.6%, and Texas overall saw an increase of 16% from the 2010 census. The South, according to the data, and the West have been overtaking the Northeast and Midwest in having the majority of the country’s population.
Because of results from the census, not only did Texas gain two new seats in the US House of Representatives, but population distribution throughout the state led to district lines needing to be reset to adhere to federal law.
Texas Tech University Political Science Professor Mark McKenzie explained to NPR in September that while provisions to protect voters of color from discrimination were removed in 2013, state governments are required to have equal populations in each district. Specific demographics, economic, and geographic interests across those districts don’t need to coordinate.
West Texas A&M University Assistant Professor Christopher Macaulay, Ph.D., said that each Texas US Congressional District needed to have around 766,000 people – which led to the expansion of territory such as District 13, containing Amarillo, which was already the second-largest geographical district in the state.
In September 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called a third special legislative session for the state legislature to focus on redistricting. Using the released data from the 2020 census, which came months later than the initial census bureau plan of delivering data by the end of March, the Texas State House and Senate went back and forth until Abbott signed the newly created maps into law on Oct. 25.
Local representatives, school size and funding, early childhood programs, where grocery stores are built, and which roads are repaired are only a few aspects of day-to-day impacts the census count and redistricting are expected to have on Texas communities.
The Texas Legislature and a list of lawsuits
Millions of Texas residents have been noted by census experts as among those most difficult to count – immigrants, poor Texans, non-English speakers being a few. However, despite that difficulty, census data showed that 95% of the population growth in Texas since 2010 was through people of color, and half of the total gains were through Hispanic people. Despite that, the new Texas House map drops the number of districts in which Hispanic people make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30, and the congressional map reduced the number of districts with a Hispanic voting majority from eight to seven.
Often with this disparity cited as one of the causes, as well as the constitutionality of the entire redistricting process, the census and redistricting efforts in Texas have been dotted with lawsuits against the state legislature from communities and colleagues alike.
- September saw two Texas state senators file lawsuits that contended district maps could not be legally redrawn during a special session, which ended up the process after months of census data delays.
- In October, two federal lawsuits were filed against the redistricting efforts’ constitutionality, and the Latino civil rights group Voto Latino alongside 13 Texas voters sued to ask a Texas US District Court to overturn the new maps.
- In November, three separate lawsuits were filed by Texas lawmakers that also sought to overturn the maps, and several civil rights groups filed suit against Governor Abbott and Texas Secretary of State John Scott with the argument that the new maps were racially discriminatory.
While the exact dates in which these cases will be heard in court have remained unclear, and their verdicts not yet settled, these lawsuits carry the potential to further delay or even upend Texas’ 2022 elections. After census data delays already led to the candidate filing deadline for the election to be set to Dec. 13, the primary elections were set for early May and the general election for November. However, depending on the actions of the courts, those dates could see further changes.
For a number of decades, including at recently as 2017, legislators have been sued on similar bases and higher courts have found that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and Black voters during mapmaking.
The day-to-day thoughts from communities
It has not been only some lawmakers and civil rights organizations that have spoken out in objection or confusion regarding the newly drawn districts. Both rural and urban voters have either protested the maps or pleaded with lawmakers for consideration while they were being made.
Angela Arthur from Ralls, outside of Lubbock, asked lawmakers during a Texas House redistricting committee hearing to consider keeping communities with similar interests together. She worried that merging agricultural communities with more urban big-city centers would impact the quality of representation citizens like her and her neighbors would get at state and federal levels of government.
“It may seem like our county is not concerned about this issue or where or what we’ll be paired with. This is not the case,” Arthur said, “I don’t want our county needs to be overlooked and underserved because of our size and population.”
However, despite that sort of plea from rural and urban citizens alike, the new Texas maps have resulted in sometimes strangely-shaped districts that can group populations hours away from one another together while splitting up neighbors a few houses down the road.
Macaulay further noted that rural districts like 13 and 19 could see their representation even more diluted than in the past. Altogether, the watering down of voter demographics and day-to-day priorities across urban centers and the large swaths of rural communities across the state has appeared to be a concern many Texans share as common ground.
Although changes could arise before incoming election days, current candidates can be tracked here alongside other coverage from Your Local Election Headquarters.
This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.