In Texas, the state legislature draws congressional and state legislative districts and adopts the plans through the normal legislative process, subject to a gubernatorial veto. The congressional maps passed in 2021 were challenged in federal court for violating the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition of racial gerrymandering. The state legislative maps passed in 2021 were resubmitted in 2023 to meet the state constitutional provision that districts be drawn “at its first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census.” [Tx. Const. art. III § 28]. The House and Senate resubmitted maps that were identical to the maps passed in 2021, despite pressure to make changes to better represent Black and Latinx voters.
As of July 7, 2023, multiple court cases are proceeding through federal court challenging the new congressional maps as racially discriminatory in violation of Section 2 of the VRA. Nine cases were filed challenging congressional maps and multiple other cases were filed challenging legislative maps as racially discriminatory.
Community of Interest Story
“It’s not that people are apathetic about politics, it’s that the systems are really apathetic to the people.” – Ashley Cheng, Founding President, Asian Texans for Justice
Immigrant communities fought especially hard for language justice during this redistricting cycle. Many advocates spoke about the lack of translation service offered and how organizations banded together to advocate for interpretation services for Spanish-speaking and AAPI communities. The coalition did succeed in getting a budget rider item to fund translation services for redistricting meetings, but the legislature still required 72 hours notice to offer a translator, sometimes for meetings that were only announced 24 hours in advance.
Through the Texas AAPI Redistricting Coalition, advocates encouraged people to testify in their native languages to prove how inaccessible the process was. Advocates were forced to provide community interpreters for people, assisting in seven languages other than English. Ashley Cheng from Asian Texans for Justice spoke about how AAPI communities, the fastest growing population in Texas, were routinely ignored and left out of the process, and how advocates helping community members provide in-language testimony provided an outlet for people to be heard, despite the legislature failing to provide equal access to immigrant communities.
Overall State Grade: D-
Difficulty in accessing information: Even for people deeply involved with redistricting and actively seeking information, finding out how to get involved proved difficult. The redistricting section of the Texas legislature’s website was not well-publicized and it was largely left up to the advocacy community to translate complex information to the public about the process and how to get involved.
Rushed timeline: There were many opportunities to testify virtually and there was great turnout from communities of color despite hurdles to participation, but the process for passing maps was rushed.
Redistricting occurred during a month-long special session that did a poor job including the public. Hearings were often held with less than 24 hours notice, and only the House offered the opportunity for virtual testimony. Maps were passed quickly, within a week or two of the initial proposed maps, with few changes reflecting input from the community.
Lack of language access: The redistricting committee offered translation services after a public pressure campaign from immigrant organizations, but the process to request translation for testimony was entirely in English, difficult to navigate, and required requests 72 hours in advance.
Local Grade: C-
Advocates gave an average grade of C- for local redistricting processes in their areas, citing specific local wins in Austin, Houston, and other areas that reflected more responsive and transparent processes than the state as a whole.
- Share the nitty-gritty details about how to get involved: Organizations shared they were able to successfully engage people in the process by teaching them how to navigate often overlooked barriers to participation – i.e. how to get around the Capitol, how to get to meetings, and how to share specific stories about redistricting in testimony. Walking people through these processes built a sense of trust and made it easier for them to participate in a process not designed for them.
- Education and outreach make an impact: Texans Against Gerrymandering, their Fair Maps Texas Coalition partners, and other organizations were able
to mobilize hundreds of community members to share testimony virtually and in person. According to one advocate, almost all people who testified used terminology they learned from advocacy organizations, showing the impact and importance of community education efforts.
- Virtual testimony and participation succeeded: One huge success from the redistricting coalition in Texas was the push to allow virtual testimony in the redistricting process. The redistricting committee was the only committee in the state legislature to offer virtual meetings due to years-long advocacy work by community organizations. This allowed hundreds more people to participate and was a great success, regardless of the results.
- Maps and data help strengthen testimony: Advocates emphasized that utilizing maps and data helped strengthen community testimony, and providing members of the public with these tools greatly strengthened their ability to represent themselves and their communities.
- There needs to be more coalition districts and collaborative work across communities of color: Despite incredible turnout and advocacy by communities of color and organizations fighting for these communities, advocates lamented that the maps passed ultimately ended up drastically splitting communities of color, who make up 95% of the state’s total population growth in the past decade.There were no new opportunity districts created and house maps actually decreased the amount of majority Latinx and majority Black citizen voting age population (CVAP) districts. Advocates from different communities of color were successful in advocating together, but there is further opportunity for pushing for coalition districts in 2030; advocates spoke of an overlap in support across communities of color on a number of issues.
- More training on maps is helpful: Advocates spoke of a learning curve in using maps and how and when to engage communities in mapping COI’s. Some thought their voices wouldn’t be heard; many people would speak to the process but not their specific COI, and more training could be helpful to bridge that gap in the future since maps strengthened community testimony and supported litigation efforts.
- There is a need for funding: Advocacy work around redistricting is time intensive and requires expertise and deep community relationships. Organizations need to stay engaged in this work despite the legislature ignoring a lot of the voices of people mobilized by the advocacy community, and that requires funding for grassroots organizations in the long-term fight for fair redistricting.
- Connecting redistricting to other issues helps engagement: Some advocates expressed they wished that they had done a better job connecting redistricting to voting rights work and voter suppression laws in Texas. Some advocates stated that they engaged many new people in the process, but it still felt like a loss, which was difficult for newly engaged activists. By connecting redistricting to other fights, advocates could keep people engaged for the long haul.