Before the events of 2020 redirected both state and national attention toward far-reaching issues like the coronavirus and allegations of systemic racism, much of the focus of the Texas election season was centered on the upcoming redistricting process.
While it may sound innocuous — even tedious, particularly compared to the other politically charged events of the season — redistricting will have a profound impact on the future of the political landscape in Texas and beyond. It will influence that way Texans’ voices are heard in Austin and in Washington over the next 10 years.
You’ll often hear people talking about “fair maps,” and “representation in Austin.” It’s worth understanding what this means for you, as a Texas citizen. So here’s what you need to know in order to make informed decisions on which candidates you choose to support with your dollars, your voice, and your vote.
Redistricting is the process of redrawing the boundary lines of state districts to more accurately represent the Texas population. Constituents and politicians alike attempt to predict the demographic change a district will undergo over the course of a decade, but the federal census is the actual metric used.
The data taken from the 2020 census, as distributed by the federal government, will be used to draw up proposed changes to the current districts during the next legislative session. Those plans are then proposed by lawmakers as legislation, and are required to move through the legislative process like any other bill. If passed, these bills will represent the new district boundaries for the next ten years for state senate districts, state house districts, state board of education districts, and U.S. congressional districts.
With redistricting on the horizon, the stakes are particularly high for the upcoming 87th Legislative Session in Texas. The politicians we elect this fall and send to Austin in January for this next legislative session will wield an immense amount of influence in shaping the Texas political landscape for the next ten years. Their decisions will impact both the Texas Legislature and the US Congress, where Texas is poised to add two, possibly three, Congressional seats to its current count of 36. (That number depends on the results of the 2020 Census.)
Redistricting has a dramatic history in Texas. After federal judges found violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas was under increased federal scrutiny of their entire process during the last round of redistricting legislation. This cycle, however, Texas is no longer under that heightened level of scrutiny, meaning there is less opportunity for those who may disagree with the outcome of the final boundaries to object once any bills are ratified.
With less federal oversight to contest new maps on the back end of the process, even more emphasis is being placed on whom Texas is electing to draw the maps in the first place. All eyes are on the partisan makeup of Texas House Representatives going into the 87th Legislative Session.
As the Texas legislature stands right now, the Senate has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats; a narrow Republican 3/5 majority. The House of Representatives includes 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats; a slim margin above the necessary majority of 76 votes.
That tenuous margin is why the battle to control the Texas House of Representatives has captured so much attention this election cycle. Those nine seats — and whether they will stay red or turn blue as a result of November’s general election — will determine who controls the upcoming redistricting process.
If you’re following Texas politics, you’re aware of the push to “Flip the House Blue,” or “Keep Texas Red.” These opposing sides represent the attempt by Democrats to take control of the Texas House in 2020, and of Republicans to block that attempt.
Publicly, Texas Democrats have boasted about a ‘target list’ of House districts. These are districts currently represented by a Republican, but whose constituencies voted in favor of former Congressman Beto O’Rourke during his failed 2018 U.S. Senate run against Senator Ted Cruz.
As we head toward November’s general elections, Transparency USA will be following each of the Texas elections that have been declared “Battleground 2020” races. We’ll keep you informed about the money being poured into each candidate, where it comes from, and how they are spending it as they attempt to win the privilege of representing their constituents.
Our How It Works series simplifies the often-confusing world of state politics and campaign finance. Looking for more? Use our 2020 Election Races tool (it’s new!) to get a side-by-side comparison of the money in every race as we move toward November. And, as always, you can search any Texas candidate, donor, PAC or lobbyist.