This week's redistricting hearing brought out some of the clearest evidence yet that in the redistricting process, the Republican legislature and State of Texas deliberately fragmented urban minority populations to dilute their voting power. Furthermore, Republicans in the Legislature did this not merely in a few districts, but rather in population centers across our state. It's a problem that can't be fixed by just moving a few precinct lines. We need an entirely new map from what the Legislature passed, one that is drawn with genuine respect to minority population growth.
This evidence was clearly presented in a Powerpoint from members of the plaintiffs group, which demonstrated clearly that in Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, and Bell Counties, efforts were taken to disguise minority population growth, and fragment minority communities into multiple districts to dilute their collective voting strength. The Powerpoint is embedded below, but for those of you who want the quick and dirty version, here's a taste:
H283 is the map passed by the Legislature, which deliberately discriminates against minority voting populations by denying them the opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing. It's plainly clear that in Dallas and Harris County, the population growth from 2000 to 2010 was due to minority population growth and Anglo population decline.
Despite clear census data, Republicans drew a map that would allow Anglo voters to control 8 of 14 seats in Dallas county, rather than 4.66 of 14 seats as they should based on proportional representation. Similarly, their map would allow Anglos in Harris County to control 13 of 24 seats, rather than the 8 of 24 that is proportional to Anglo population representation.
This isn't just a problem with a few districts in a few counties. The plaintiffs' exhibit makes clear that legislature's map intentionally fragments minorities to dilute their voting power across the state.
This isn't a minor problem that can be fixed by adjusting a few lines. This is a concerted effort by the Republicans to deny minority populations the opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice, and it needs to be fixed on a macro level, not just by adjusting a few precincts here and there.
Republicans drew this map with the intention of diluting minority voters' power at the ballot box. African-American communities were fragmented, while low-turnout Hispanic precincts were included in swing districts to make the district look Hispanic but vote Republican. As Michael Li explained on BOR previously, it's all about the OHRVS, or Optimal Hispanic Republican Voter Strength. That's the metric the GOP came up with to make a district look Hispanic on paper, but elect Republicans who are not the choice of the Hispanic population.
The first slide in the exhibit below includes the now famous email from Eric Opiela, lawyer for the Republican congressional delegation, explains how this works. Basically, draw in as many precincts as possible that have high Hispanic populations, but have low Spanish surname voter registration and turnout numbers. It's a deceptive practice that helps the Republicans argue that they're not really disenfranchising Hispanics, when in reality that's precisely what they're doing.
In their efforts to settle the maps, the judges on the San Antonio panel seem to have let the discussion move from the macro level–systematic fragmentation of minority communities by Republicans–down to which specific districts need to be “fixed” for everyone to be satisfied with the maps. But it's not about fixing a few districts: it's about the underlying process that drew these maps. That process was flawed, and needs to be redone.
As Harold Cook writes today on his blog, emphasis mine:
So if the remaining argument is about “just a couple of state House districts,” it's only because lawyers cleverly, or foolishly, narrowed the focus. It's not because minority voters in many, many other areas of Texas evaporated, were raptured, or suddenly moved to Detroit after Clint Eastwood inspired them during the Superbowl. And while the priorities of those Texans are just as real as the priorities of those living in Wendy Davis' district, or the proposed new metroplex Congressional district, their communities are being fragmented in the exact same way, and for the same purpose: to silence their voices. … In the end, the final districts should be about ensuring that the minority citizens of this majority-minority state are not silenced due to efforts to fragment them into adjoining districts in which they have no voice.
Hopefully Judges Xavier Rodriguez, Orlando Garcia, and Jerry Smith, who comprise the San Antonio panel, look closely at this evidence and recognize that redistricting plaintiffs aren't quibbling over just a handful of districts, but rather objecting to the blatant effort by the Republican legislature and State of Texas to draw a map statewide that disenfranchises as minority voters as possible, all in the aims of keeping a hold on the State House as long as possible.
Below is the entire exhibit, complete with many maps and charts. It's plainly clear that in Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, and Bell Counties the Republicans deliberately tried to hide the growth in minority populations. Take a look for yourself. The judges on the San Antonio panel have seen this, and it's pretty clear evidence that the state engaged in an illegal gerrymander that violates the voting rights act
We need to toss these state maps, and the so-called “compromise” map Greg Abbott was touting last week (which does little to nothing to remedy these issues) and use maps that fairly represent the minority population growth in Texas.
Here's the plaintiffs exhibit: