On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Abbott v. Perez — the latest installment of a seven-year battle challenging the gerrymandered maps designed by the Texas Legislature after the 2010 Census. If you are wondering how Texans, in 2018, are still voting under maps declared illegal by federal courts years ago, you are not alone. In fact, not only have Democratic- and Republican-appointed federal judges invalidated prior maps adopted earlier this decade, they have also made findings of intentional discrimination. While the case history is complex, the stakes are clear: whether we must tolerate gerrymandered maps specifically designed to limit the rights of voters across large swaths of Texas.
Too many Texans already feel that their votes do not matter and that the maps are rigged. This week, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to restore voter confidence in fair elections, the bedrock of any healthy democracy.
The 2010 Census found that the Texas population grew by more than 4 million residents during the previous decade. As a result of its growth, Texas gained four new congressional seats and needed to draw new state house and congressional district maps. Crucially, nearly 90 percent of Texas’ population growth in first decade of the 21st century was due to new minority residents in the state: The Latino population alone comprised 65 percent of the growth in Texas between 2000 and 2010. Despite communities of color being the single biggest factor behind Texas’s increased political power, the congressional and state legislative maps drawn by the politicians in power weakened these voters’ influence.
Federal courts have determined that the legislature employed divisive, racial gerrymandering techniques, such as “packing” (combining minority voters into as few districts as possible) and “cracking” (diffusing the minority population widely to limit its influence), with the intention of diluting Hispanic and African American voters’ political power and voice in both the federal and state electoral maps. After a San Antonio court found in 2012 that the original maps violated the Constitution and Voting Rights Act, the Texas Legislature adopted new remedial maps. Unfortunately, the updated maps shared with the first maps the overriding goal of purposefully diluting minorities’ political power.
This case lays bare the perverse effects of gerrymandering on Texas elections. Elections determine who will represent us and, ultimately, the issues that impact our daily lives. When the redistricting process devolves into politicians choosing their voters, instead of voters choosing their politicians, our democracy suffers. If the final outcome of this near decade-long legal battle results in fairer elections that are more responsive to voters – and helps to elect individuals that look more like Texas – it will help rebuild faith in the electoral process and possibly remedy the state’s low voter participation.
Texans have suffered rigged maps long enough. Millions of votes have been cast under illegal districts. Texans should not be forced to wait any longer for justice at the polls. All Americans deserve the chance to cast their votes under fair electoral maps and, ultimately, for their voices to be heard in our democracy.
Texas state Representative Rafael Anchia is chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the country’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, and a leading plaintiff in the Texas redistricting case.
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