Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Shelby County attorney sets sights on Texas apportionment scheme
Texas Observer reports that the Project for Fair Representation has a new project--diluting minority representative power in Texas's legislature. The one-man group represented Shelby County, Alabama in its successful challenge to the Voting Rights Act's preclearance requirement, which the Supreme Court struck down last year. Now, it aims to amend the way Texas apportions its representative districts. As the Observer's Christopher Hooks reports:
The conservative group’s legal challenge objects to the fact that that number includes many people who can’t vote, including children, convicted felons and, most important, non-citizens—both undocumented migrants and permanent residents who are foreign nationals. The suit argues that counting people who aren’t eligible voters is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Project on Fair Representation wants the Legislature to attempt to draw senate districts that have an identical number of eligible voters, or citizen voting age population (CVAP.) Under that method, each senate district would be drawn to have about 502,000 eligible voters.
That might sound like a relatively innocuous change, but it would dramatically alter the political landscape in Texas. Redrawing districts under the new rules might decrease the political polarization in the state Senate—creating more ideologically-similar districts—but at the same time it would dramatically lessen the voice non-white voters have in the political process. Those who are too young to vote, or legally unable to vote, wouldn’t be counted as people when it comes to distributing representation in the state Senate. And urban areas like Houston, which have a large number of non-voting residents, would be effectively disadvantaged in the Senate.
The state senate districts with the highest number of non-voters are represented by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and state Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), all of whom currently represent both a large number of children and non-citizens. They’re also among the most progressive members of the Senate.
If the conservative group’s plan were adopted today, all three would have their districts redrawn to include more eligible voters. That would mean, especially in Houston, likely pulling from the region’s pool of Anglo voters, according to Li. And those senators would also represent more people than others. Poor and young residents of the district would effectively have their voices in the Senate diluted, as their elected senator found themselves with many more constituents than before.
Meanwhile, the senators who represent districts with fewest non-voters would include state Sen. Bob Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) who have whiter electorates. Their districts might not change much.
Li says the conservative group’s effort, if successful, might make certain Democratic-leaning districts more politically competitive. But asked specifically about Ellis’ and Garcia’s districts—the biggest outliers—he said the changes might be less about political affiliation than which voices are represented. “I don’t think the risk is that it becomes a Republican district per se,” he said. “But there clearly is a political benefit here, and the benefit doesn’t favor African-Americans and Hispanics.”
Moreover, he says, such a plan would be difficult to implement. The true number of voting eligible residents in a given area would be “very difficult to tabulate.” The Census doesn’t ask about citizenship status. And to exclude voting-age felons, you’d need to ascertain and track their status. “It’s really hard to do this on a state level,” he says, “especially in a state that’s as complicated as Texas.”
CRL&P related posts:
- "(Mis)Trusting States to Run Elections"
- "The Future of Voting Rights in Indian Country Following Shelby County and Inter Tribal Council of Arizona"
- "Responding to Shelby County: A Grand Election Bargain"
- Voting rights activists hope courts will impose preclearance under VRA on five previously covered states
- Shelby County's impact on voting rights policy will likely be 'deeply destabilizing,' argue Profs. Charles and Fuentes-Rohwer
- Plaintiffs in voting rights lawsuits will have procedurally and substantively less protection under § 2 of VRA, writes Professor Stephanopoulos