It has been ten years, a decennial census, and the Republican-controlled Texas legislature has redrawn the state maps, with incumbents finding themselves drawn out of their own districts and would-be challengers finding paths to success becoming narrower, donut- and donut-hole districts, and a flurry of legal and public pushback against the announced maps.
Incumbent Representative Vicente Gonzalez, whose district pre-redistricting was the Rio Grande Valley’s District 15, has announced his intent to run in the new District 34 – in part because his home is in the new district’s boundaries. In north Texas, similar issues are taking place: Salman Bhojani, a Democratic candidate for Texas Senate District 9 since May 2021, recently announced the end of his campaign after the redrawn maps completely changed District 9 from a competitive one to a safe Republican district. And when redrawing lines, even the party in charge cannot always avoid collateral damage, as in the odd case of District 34 losing six Republican-leaning counties to an adjacent district, just as the Republican Party had been making meaningful headway and the long-term Democratic incumbent was retiring. However, incumbent district-jumping isn’t new, at least for Texas. Longtime Congressman Lloyd Doggett, first elected to Congress in 1995, has already survived redrawing and jumping into new districts, and is looking to do so again with a jump from District 35 to District 37.
These aren’t even all the stories of affected candidates – so what happened? How did the maps end up here, and why are they being challenged? As a number of lawsuits have claimed, the maps were drawn this way to boost majority-party control until the next census by actively managing changing demographic trends that might otherwise change electoral trends. Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, summarized the arguments against the new maps as “[Republicans] could have drawn more minority-majority districts, but they did not because they were focused on drawing safe Republican districts.” And, as Jones and legal challengers claim, the opportunity and impetus to create more majority-minority districts was there, with over 95% of Texas’s population growth in the last decade in communities of color, with Latinos alone making up 50% of the total growth. Jones’ analysis of the districts shows that 24 of Texas’s 38 districts (63%) are majority-majority districts, where the proportionate number would be closer to 40%.
The non-partisan, non-profit Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) provided the first legal challenge to the redistricting plans, but not for the first time, stating “[t]he new redistricting plans are an unlawful attempt to thwart the changing Texas electorate and should be struck down.” MALDEF has previously challenged maps on similar grounds of insufficient minority representation with a mixed history of success. A Latino voter rights organization working with MALDEF has calculated that Texas should have eleven majority-Latino districts; the state currently has nine, with the new maps reducing the number to seven.
Beyond the potential reduction in minority representation through packing, dilution, and reduction of total majority-minority districts, there have also been concerns about the shapes of Texas’ House of Representatives Districts 55 and 54, pictured below: it’s a donut (District 54) and a donut hole (District 55). Bell County is home to Fort Hood and has a nearly-equal majority and minority population, but the donut-scheme would change District 54 from a region of +0.1% for Trump to +7%, specifically by dividing the minority population in Killeen, Texas, and concentrating the majority population in the rest of Bell County.
Source: Screenshot of DistrictViewer, Texas Legislature’s Public Map Website
So, what’s a state facing a gerrymandering charge to do? So far, Texas map-drawers have stuck to their claims that the new maps are race-blind, a claim the United States Supreme Court previously allowed to stand in a narrow 5-4 decision. Whether these new maps will stand, stand in part, or go back to the drawing board remains to be seen.