legislation we support

Our top legislative priorities include creating an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (IRC) for both state legislative and U.S. Congressional districts.  We also will be supporting the individual components of the IRC model as legislation.  

1.  Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission 

HJR 123 & HB 3928

SJR 52 & SB 1537

  • The commission would be politically balanced and consist of 14 citizens - 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 voters who have not participated in any recent party primary.
  • Commissioners would be chosen for their impartiality, skills, and would reflect our state’s demographic and geographic diversity.

  • The commission would be tasked to create a timeline and draw districts for U.S. Congressional, state legislative, and state board of education districts.

  • The commission would use a list of prioritized, nonpartisan mapping criteria and would ensure that our Constitution, federal and state laws are followed. Texas’ communities, cities, and counties would be respected and not divided unnecessarily.

  • The Commission would draw new district maps in open, public meetings based on census data and public input.

  • To approve the new maps, the plans must receive nine “yes” votes from the Commission—three “yes” votes from members registered with the two largest parties, and three “yes” votes from the other members. 

  • This reform would end the closed-door political deals by legislators to draw districts that protect themselves.

2.  Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission only for congressional districts 

HB 3421

  • Identical to above but by limiting it to only congressional districts. 
  • Adoption would require only legislative approval, not a constitutional amendment. 

 

3. Redistricting Transparency Act

HJR 124

This bill would require the state to: 

  • Hold at least 5 public hearings around the state AFTER the census data is handed down from the federal government, to solicit input from citizens; 

  • Perform outreach to communities and provide advance notice of meetings held by the redistricting committee and to otherwise provide timely information on the committee’s activities;

  • Provide the public opportunity for comment once a redistricting plan is proposed;

  • Require the state to develop a web portal and provide redistricting software so that citizens can have meaningful participation in the redistricting process.

4.  Establish nonpartisan criteria to draw districts with an emphasis on communities of interest

HB 4564

  • Districts must respect counties, cities, communities of interest, and neighborhoods, to the extent possible.  A “community of interest” is a group of individuals who are likely to have similar legislative concerns, and who might therefore benefit from cohesive representation in the state legislature or U.S. Congress.

  • Districts must not be drawn based on partisan data.

  • Districts must compact, contiguous, and nested, where possible.

  • Districts must be composed of whole census tracts.

  • An incumbent’s or political candidate’s residence may not be considered when creating a district.

  • Districts must be substantially equal in population in accordance with these principles; and redistricting plans must comply with all federal constitutional requirements.

 

4.  Other Legislation

 

A.  Prison-based Gerrymandering

HB 104

  • “Prison-based gerrymandering” is a practice whereby many states and local governments count incarcerated persons as residents of the areas where they are housed when election district lines are drawn.

  • This practice distorts our democratic process by artificially inflating the population count—and thus, the political influence—of the districts where prisons and jails are located.

  • As a result, the voting power of everyone living outside of those districts is weakened.

B.  Texas Voting Rights Act

HB 2429

A bill that expands on the existing Voting Rights Act by making it easier for a protected class of citizens to challenge “at-large” election systems in the courts. 

 

Frequently asked questions

What is redistricting?


Redistricting is the process in which political districts are divided to determine political representation in local governments, state legislatures, and the United States Congress.




Why do we have to redistrict?


The United States Constitution requires that the federal government takes a census every 10 years. The census allows us to know demographic changes and to adjust districts to meet those changes to ensure that each voter gets an equal say, therefore an equal vote. The process of redistricting is determined by the states. In a majority of states, the legislature is the entity that draws the maps. Some legislatures have commissions that advise them or that draw the districts in the event of a deadlock. Some states keep politicians out of it, and have independent commissions who draw these districts. Redistricting affects the agenda of our body politic nationally and locally. It determines who has power and which groups or communities of interest they can choose to ignore by allowing politicians to choose their voters. Some line-drawing can protect an incumbent while others can ensure they have a potent challenger (which can be done in a vindictive manner due to the incumbent not aligning himself with those holding power).




Why don't we just use computers to evenly split districts by population?


Computers may not be able to maintain communities of interest that have wildly different views, cultures, and interests. For example, a community of farmers will have similar interests and would like representation that reflects that interest. The farming communities interests will be different from a community of city-folk who want to maintain their way of life in a disparate fashion from those living in the farming community




How is redistricting done in Texas?


The Texas legislature draws the lines for Congressional districts as well as state legislative districts. This is passed just like a bill and must be approved by the governor, and is subject to his/her veto. In the year after the census is taken, that data is delivered to the legislature no later than April 1st. As soon as this data is available to them, they begin to draw districts. If state house and Senate districts are not drawn at the conclusion of the first regular session after the decennial census, then a Legislative Redistricting Board (composed of the Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Speaker of the House, and General Land Office Commissioner) shall draw up their own plans. The jurisdiction of the board follows only in the months immediately after that legislative session. If the Board fails to enact a plan within those months, then it is up to the governor to call a special session. If the governor declines to call a special session, then a federal district court or state court will order that districts drawn-up.




What is "cracking?"


Cracking splits a voting bloc, group, or community of interest into several other districts in order to dilute their voting power. This practice aims to limit the ability of these groups to form majorities.




What is "packing?"


Packing concentrates members of a group or community of interest into one district thereby reducing the voice and power of that particular group or community of interest in other districts. This allows for all other districts in a state to be non-competitive.




What are "communities of interest?"


“A group of individuals united by shared interests or values" who should be kept together in a district so they can get fair and effective representation. They can be a result of common history or culture, a common ethnic background, or a variety of other ties that create a community of voters with distinct interests. Shared racial or ethnic background, Common history and/or culture, Common religion or language, Shared socio-economic status Questions to consider: What bonds your community – what do you see as the common links in your community? Where is your community located – what are the boundaries of your community? Why should the community be kept together – or separate from another area?




What is going on in the courts regarding redistricting?


Common Cause v. Rucho

  • Common Cause is the plaintiff challenging North Carolina’s congressional map. Maps were struck down by courts for being an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Legislators announced they were redrawing districts with explicit intent to remain in Republican control.
  • North Carolina federal judges sided with Common Cause citing the Equal Protection Clause, and may have the chance to go to the Supreme Court.
  • Case was consolidated with League of Women Voters v. Rucho.
  • The defendants filed a motion to stay the case pending the Supreme Court decision in Whitford v. Gill, but plaintiffs oppose the motion and are expected to file a brief in opposition by July 17.
  • Claims that NC Redistricting violates First Amendment, Due Process Clause, Equal Protection, Article 1, Section 2 and Section 4 of Constitution.
Whitford v. Gill
  • Federal judge panel ordered Wisconsin Legislature to redraw state map that was struck down as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Decided to be a violation of the equal protection clause.
  • Court decided that the map displayed bad intent and bad effect because of the specific partisan measurements done to ensure another Republican victory and majority.
  • Wisconsin Republicans dispute claim by saying there is a natural geographic advantage because of the tendency of Democrats to clump together in urban centers, but court disagrees with by pointing out disparate effect in representation.
  • Wisconsin filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in February 24, 2017. June 19 the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments. Court also granted state’s request to stay the decision of the lower court while it considers the case.
Benisek v. Lamone
  • Case originally brought by a Common Cause Maryland where they were challenging Maryland’s congressional map drawn by a Democratic majority.
  • They were working to eliminate one of the two state’s Republican members of Congress. Case will be heard later in 2017
San Antonio District Court
  • Decision of 2-1 struck down 3 Texas Congressional districts, Will Hurd R-23 (SA-El Paso), Blake Farenthold R-27 (Corpus Christi), Lloyd Doggett D-35 (Austin)
  • Court found that there was evidence that map drawers packed and cracked on the basis of race with the intent to dilute minority voting strength.





 

Publications

by Common Cause US

When nonpartisan citizen redistricting commissions draw state and congressional districts, there is a much greater chance that at least two candidates – one from each major party – will be on the general election ballot. Our analysis shows that commissions also give voters more choices in primary elections by producing fewer districts in which only one person from a major party files to run. The competition pushes candidates to work harder to connect with voters, boosting turnout and strengthening democracy. 

Details of State and Federal Laws governing redistricting.  Want to know more about the constitutional requirements for redistricting?  This resource contains a wealth of information about the redistricting process here in Texas.  A must read for anyone interested in the technical and legal aspects of redistricting.  You can find reports, guides, data (census data and redistricting plans) and even take a look at your districts using District Viewer.

by Austin IRC Commissioners Harriett Harrow, Stefan Haag, Phil Hewitt, and Maria Solis

Please note that this publication represents the views of these four members and not the Austin ICRC.

Austin ICRC Commissioners Harriett Harrow, Stefan Haag, Phil Hewitt, and Maria Solis describe the steps required to establish an independent redistricting commission.  "The process in Austin was a great success. It demonstrated that there is a great untapped reservoir of talent among our citizens and showed one way in which that talent can be realized.  It is a model for all cities. Redistricting need not be a quintessentially political process."

by the Brennan Center for Justice

This Guide provides engaged citizens with the knowledge and tools they need to get involved with this round of redistricting (2010), and to work towards continuing reform to open up the redistricting process in decades to come. If you care about representation, political power or public policy, then you care about redistricting. 

TX to pick up an estimated 3 new congressional seats so far.

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