Redistricting is an often-controversial political task undertaken by the Texas Legislature every ten years after the United States Census has been completed.
Recent meetings held in Fort Worth and Dallas are part of a statewide effort by the House Committee on Redistricting to inform citizens and receive feedback about the process. There will be approximately 30 hearings held around the state before the next legislative session.
Chairman Phil King (R-Weatherford) explained that the committee’s objectives are to draw congressional, state house, and state senate districts as equally as possible.
“It can be difficult, complex, and contentious. To be honest, we dread doing it every ten years,” King admitted at the Fort Worth hearing.
The Legislature is bound not only by population growth, but by many federal and state statutes and rules, like the Voting Rights Act and many accompanying court decisions.
State demographer Dr. Lloyd Potter explained that the population of Texas has grown by about 14 percent, which may result in a gain of three seats in Congress after the 2020 Census.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area has seen an even more rapid population growth over the last decade, which will likely create a need for new district boundaries for both state and federal offices.
While the DFW Metroplex is one of the fastest-growing areas of the state, Collin, Denton, and Rockwall counties had the fastest percentage growth, he stated.
The population of Collin County is likely to exceed one million by 2020. Denton County is projected to see the largest percentage growth at an astounding 35.5 percent.
The Texas House Committee on Redistricting may not receive the final census data from the U.S. Census Bureau until April 1, 2021. The official redistricting process cannot begin until the report is received. Therefore, the redistricting process will likely be compressed into the days between April 1 and “sine die” at the end of May.
If the Legislature cannot pass a redistricting plan by the end of the legislative session, a Legislative Redistricting Board is convened to draw state senate and house districts. Its members include the lieutenant governor, attorney general, state comptroller, speaker of the House, and land commissioner.
Congressional seats would be drawn either by a special session of the Legislature or by courts, explained Karen White, director of research with the Texas Legislative Council.
Many citizens spoke at the public hearings held last week. Common concerns centered on “gerrymandered” districts that divide neighborhoods.
Fran Rhodes of the True Texas Project asked the committee members to create districts that “fairly represent the voting patterns, growth potential, and general commonalities of a region.”
“I urge you, as much as possible, to put politics aside and try to keep common groups together in common districts,” Rhodes continued.
Several citizens also spoke about the outsourcing of redistricting to some kind of independent commission or citizen committee.
Bruce Miller, speaking for the Fort Worth Jewish community, supports the move to an independent commission.
“Texas should consider independent redistricting that takes the mapmaking out of the hands of elected officials or at least a balanced approach where all stakeholders share in the process,” Miller said.
But others opposed the idea of an independent commission.
“Do not outsource the process to an independent commission,” Patricia Date said. “Keep the process in-house to allow the people to hold elected officials accountable.”
Citizens can visit the state’s redistricting website during the process to keep up with the most current information as it is available.
Proposed maps, timelines, hearing dates, and any available redistricting information will be accessible there. Until then, below is a timeline of the current redistricting schedule.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.