Gov. Greg Abbott signs off on Texas’ new political maps

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 18: Texas Governor Greg Abbott announces the reopening of more Texas businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Monday, May 18, 2020. (Photo by Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty I

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday approved Texas’ new political maps for the state’s congressional, legislative, and State Board of Education districts, according to Texas Legislature Online.

The maps were drawn to keep Texas Republicans in power for the next decade. They simultaneously diminish the power of voters of color — despite new census numbers pointing to Texans of color as the main force behind the state’s population growth.

The new districts will be used for the first time in next year's primary and general elections, barring any court interventions.

The redistricting process, which happens every 10 years after new census data is released, is complicated and contentious. Legal battles have already begun, with one early lawsuit raising various claims that the new districts unfairly and illegally discriminate against voters of color. More legal challenges are expected to pop up in the near future.

Here’s what Texans should know about the 2021 redistricting outcomes.

The Texas GOP fortified its power with all four maps

Texas lawmakers drew political maps that would protect the GOP’s majorities in the Texas Legislature, on the State Board of Education and within the state’s congressional delegation to Washington, D.C. Throughout the process, Texas Republicans — nearly all of whom are white — struggled against demographic tides to protect their grip on power.

In a bid to hold the political turf, Republicans zeroed in on some communities with high shares of potential voters of color — who are more likely to support Democrats — and grafted them onto massive districts dominated by white voters. To protect GOP incumbents, Republicans also made political districts less competitive, which could undermine many potential challengers’ campaigns. Some experts believe this tactic might hurt civic engagement.

Republicans drew new maps that dilute the power of voters of color

Census data shows that Texans of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth, but the state’s new political maps don’t reflect this growth. With partisan fervor, Republicans drew new maps for Congress and the Texas Legislature that dilute the power of voters of color. That came despite Democratic efforts — and pleas from members of the public — to create additional opportunities for voters of color to meaningfully influence elections.

Since Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has been barred by law from discriminating against voters of color. Yet in every decade since then, federal judges have ruled at least once that the state violated federal protections for voters in redistricting.

Texas’ new political districts are not reflective of the state

People of color made up 95% of Texas’ population growth, and the Hispanic and white populations are nearly equal in size. But white voters will have disproportionate control of elections under the state’s new political maps.

State Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who led the redistricting process in the Senate, said in a public meeting that lawmakers had drawn the maps "race blind" and they had "not looked at any racial data" throughout the process. But to the legion of civil rights activists, lawyers, local leaders and organizers who have labored for decades against Texas political structures that exclude their communities, Huffman's words translate as being politically invisible.

"Color blind has two meanings — one that decisions are made without racial bias. These maps have obviously been made with racial bias," Elisa Gonzalez, a retired educator from Corpus Christi, told lawmakers at one public hearing. "However, this committee is also color blind in terms of being deliberately blind to citizens of color by making maps that silence their impact."

New congressional map increases districts Donald Trump would have won

With the state’s new congressional districts, Republicans designed a map that will tighten their hold on diversifying parts of the state, where the party’s grip on power was waning. It will also lock in the GOP’s majority in the 38-seat delegation for the U.S. House.

The state’s delegation had consisted of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Trump won 22 current U.S. House districts, but would have won 25 under the new maps. Biden won 14 current U.S. House districts, but would have won 13 under the new maps. That means while Trump won 52.1% of the statewide vote, he would have won in more than 65% of the new congressional districts.

By fortifying GOP districts, the congressional map often manipulates district lines around communities of color. In some instances, Republicans drew diverse suburban areas into sprawling rural districts dominated by white voters. They reconfigured a district in the typically blue Rio Grande Valley to boost Republican performance even though the area’s Hispanic voters usually don’t prefer GOP candidates.

The new map also incorporates two additional U.S. House seats the state gained, the most of any state in this year’s reapportionment. Though Texas received those districts because of explosive population growth — 95% of it attributable to people of color — Republicans opted to give white voters effective control of both, which were drawn in the Houston and Austin areas.

Republicans reduced the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters from eight to seven. The number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters drops from one to zero. Meanwhile, the state would have 23 districts with a white majority among eligible voters — up from 22 in the current configuration.

The new 37th Congressional District in the Austin area captures Democratic-leaning voters that were endangering the prospects of Republican incumbents in nearby districts. The new 38th Congressional District offers Republicans safe territory in the Houston area.

Senate map protects Republican incumbents

Texas’ new Senate map draws safe seats for Republican incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified over the last 10 years. As of October 2021, the chamber’s 31 seats were divided among 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

In the 2020 elections, Trump won 16 districts and Biden won 15 districts. Under the new maps, Trump would have won 19 and Biden would have won 12. That means while Trump won 52.1% of the statewide vote, he would have won more than 61% of the new Senate districts.

The new map still has seven districts where Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters and one where Black residents are the majority of eligible voters. The number of districts where white residents make up the majority of eligible voters drops from 21 to 20. And districts where no racial group makes up more than half of eligible voters increases from two to three.

New House districts decrease Hispanic and Black voters’ influence

The state’s new House map pulls back on Hispanic and Black voters’ potential influence in electing their representatives.

The map brings the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters down from 33 to 30. The number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would drop from seven to six. Meanwhile, the number of districts with a white majority among eligible voters would increase from 83 to 89.

The redraw will ultimately aid Republicans’ ability to control the chamber for years to come.

As of October 2021, the partisan breakdown of the House was 83 Republicans and 66 Democrats. During the 2020 election, 76 districts voted for Trump while 74 voted for Biden.

The new House map creates 85 districts that would have favored Trump in 2020 and 65 that would have voted for Biden. So while Trump won 52.1% of the statewide vote, he would have won in 56.7% of new state House districts.

State Board of Education map keeps Republicans in control

The State Board of Education is the 15-member body that dictates what millions of Texas public school students are taught in classrooms. It is currently made up of nine Republicans and six Democrats. The new map continues to give Republicans control. Seven of the districts went to Biden during the 2020 general election, but under the new maps, Biden would have won only six of the districts.

Under the new maps, there are 10 districts whose majority of eligible voters is white, three where the majority is Hispanic and two that have no majority. This did not change from the previous maps.

More than 5.3 million students were enrolled in Texas public schools for the 2020-21 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency. More than 52% are Hispanic, about 12.7% are Black, 4.7% are Asian American, and about 26.5% white.

Legal challenges are expected — something to which Texas is accustomed

Before the special legislative session for redistricting was wrapped up, lawsuits had already been filed, and more are expected. It’s not unusual for some redistricting plans to end up in state or federal court. For the past decade, the state dealt with the legal implications of the 2011 redistricting maps that ended up being rejected by the federal government. If those past lawsuits indicate anything it’s that these types of court challenges could take years, if not the better part of a decade.

This is the first time in decades Texas doesn’t need federal approval to implement new maps

In every decade since the federal Voting Rights Act was passed, federal courts have found that Texas lawmakers disenfranchised voters in one way or another when drawing maps. Because of this long history of voter suppression, Texas was required for decades to run any changes to its elections, including changes to district boundaries, by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court.

But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and ruled that the formula that kept states like Texas under federal oversight was outdated, freeing the state from the process known as preclearance. That means 2021 was the first time in nearly 50 years that Texas could implement new legislative and congressional districts without having to prove ahead of time that the maps don’t undermine the electoral power of voters of color. Voters of color and civil rights groups that have fought the state’s political maps in the past now have fewer tools with which to challenge the discrimination that may tarnish the maps.

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