Stephanie Swanson Redistricting Issue Chair
For more information see the Voting Rights and Election Laws in Texas
Support for an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission as the preferred redistricting body.
Support for a state redistricting process and standards that promote fair and effective representation with maximum opportunity for public scrutiny.
The League of Women Voters of Texas supports action to achieve an effective method for drawing boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts. The League supports the formation of an autonomous, Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission following the decennial census with the initial responsibility of formulating a redistricting plan designating boundaries for the U.S. congressional districts and the state House and Senate districts. Criteria and standards for drawing district boundaries include the following:
In 1983 the League adopted a "study of the congressional and legislative redistricting process in Texas, including assessment of current criteria and evaluation of possible alternatives." The study grew out of a concern for the way redistricting had been accomplished during the 1970's and 1980's when legislative redistricting problems had resulted in prolonged wrangling over district lines. League members asked for the study in order to have a position from which to work before the 1990 census and the next round of redistricting. The position was adopted in the fall of 1984.
League members strongly support the initial use of a commission. But members also provided for an alternative method in the event that the legislature is not willing to use a commission. If a commission is not initially responsible, the legislature should conduct the work of redistricting during a special session of the legislature called for the sole purpose of redistricting. The special session should operate within a short, strict time frame.
During 1997-98 Periodic Program Review, the committee clarified the League position opposing consideration of "communities of interest" as criteria for drawing district boundaries. Communities of interest can include common occupations, industries, and ethnic or religious cultures. Most redistricting authorities agree that this criterion is so broad that it invites problems. Communities of interest are difficult to define and often extend beyond political subdivisions and geographical boundaries. Racial and language minorities can constitute a community of interest that is already protected under the Voting Rights Act. At a statewide convention in 2013, delegates voted to remove the term "communities of interest" from the position.
2017 update to LWV-TX and LWV-US redistricting position
Action on this study has focused on trying to get legislators interested in reforming the redistricting system during a session in which redistricting is not being done. Efforts thus far have been futile. Reform measures have been introduced in each regular session since 1985 but have not been reported out of committee.
1990's: The League testified at redistricting hearings about the criteria we consider essential to a good redistricting plan. LWV-TX monitored redistricting legislation in the 1991 legislative session that redrew boundaries based on the new census. Forty-three bills on redistricting were introduced in the 73rd Legislature (1993). The League testified in favor of a measure that would have established a commission with initial authority over redistricting. Although none of the bills passed, the number introduced and the interest generated gave hope for progress in the future.
2001: None of the redistricting bills passed in the 77th session. The redistricting process remained unchanged. The Legislative Redistricting Board drew up the senate and house districts, and congressional redistricting was assigned to the courts when the governor did not call a special session. A large number of court suits resulted from redistricting plans after the 1990 census. Districts were not completely finalized until 1997. At this time it is not known whether or not the new plans drawn following the 2000 census will be in place in time for the 2002 election.
The League's major redistricting efforts in the 77th session were directed toward changing the redistricting process. After bills to establish a citizen's commission to draw the initial redistricting plan failed, the League lobbied in favor of SJR35 (Wentworth et al) to establish a special session devoted exclusively to redistricting. The "League bill" passed the Senate Redistricting Committee unanimously, passed the full senate with 29 coauthors, but was not successful in the house. Grassroots support provided by local Leagues and League members was a factor in getting the issue of redistricting process reform before the legislators and raising the interest in, and profile of, this important issue.
The League worked to educate members of the legislature on the use of the most accurate census figures available, and endorsed the use of statistical sampling as a proven scientific technique that, when properly used, can improve the accuracy and lower the costs of ascertaining the population count. However the legislature chose not to use this method.
2003: The League-supported bill establishing a commission with initial authority over redistricting did not receive a committee hearing in the regular session. The League opposed, on the grounds that a valid plan was in place, a House bill that would have redrawn the Congressional districts. Over fifty representatives left the state to deny a House quorum and the bill died.
The governor called a special session for the purpose of redrawing congressional districts.
Again, the League opposed redrawing the districts and called for a change in the process to establish a commission with initial authority over redistricting. LWV-TX testified at House hearings in Houston, Lubbock and Dallas, and at Senate hearings in Houston and Dallas. Local Leagues testified in San Antonio and Waco.
A 2nd special session was called in July with 11 of the 12 Democratic senators leaving the state just before the session was convened. The new redistricting plan was adopted in the second session and withstood court challenges. The new plan was in effect for the March primary and for the general election in the fall of 2004.
2005: Sen. Wentworth again introduced a bill, SB 1404, that would establish a commission with initial authority over redistricting, but this time addressing only congressional districts. While supporting a commission with authority over legislative as well as congressional districts, the League chose to support this bill with testimony, Action Alerts, and other advocacy. The bill passed the Senate 30:1, but died in the House without a committee hearing.
2006: LEAGUE TAKES AIM AT PARTISAN REDISTRICTING (what follows is from a LWVUS press release). As a part of its Democracy Agenda, the League of Women Voters has called on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the partisan gerrymander imposed on the citizens of Texas in 2003.
In an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" brief the League of Women Voters of the United States and the League of Women Voters of Texas argue that the Texas legislature's mid-census redistricting was unconstitutional because it was carried out solely to achieve partisan advantage. The law firm of Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP prepared the brief on behalf of the League. The Court will hear arguments in the case, LULAC v. Perry, on March 1, 2006.
"Partisan gerrymandering undermines the basic principles of representative government," according to Kay J. Maxwell, president of the national League. "The Texas League fought this plan when it was presented, and we are proud to join with them in asking the Court to overturn it. Partisan gerrymandering subverts the democratic system because it allows politicians to choose their voters, rather than vice versa. This turns representative government upside-down," Maxwell said.
The Texas mid-census redistricting case involves the threshold decision of whether to redistrict at all and not just a decision about how to draw the lines in a redistricting plan. While acknowledging that redistricting policy necessarily has an effect on election outcomes, the League in its brief urges the Court to decide that "there is a stark difference in kind between, on the one hand, relying on neutral considerations that incidentally affect partisan outcomes and, on the other, adopting exclusively partisan criteria for which specific partisan outcomes are the goal."
By filing this brief the League of Women Voters continues its long history of fighting against attacks on the basic constitutional right to fair and equal representation guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution. Leagues have worked vigorously across the country to secure representative redistricting plans in their states after each census and are seeking reforms to assure that the redistricting process is nonpartisan, equitable and open. These are core rights for citizens of a free and democratic nation.
The League's Democracy Agenda is an advocacy and public education program to strengthen and renew the basic tenets of American democracy. This effort seeks to protect our electoral processes through election reform and campaign finance reform, to advance our representative government through nonpartisan redistricting, and preserve our constitutional rights by safeguarding civil liberty.
The Court did not decide in favor of the League position, which was to overturn the plan. It did however decide that the plan had a deleterious affect on Hispanic minority districts, and these had to be redrawn. The new districts were in place for the November election.
2007: At the beginning of the session Senator Wentworth, a longtime champion of fair redistricting and author of numerous bills supporting the formation of a redistricting committee, spoke. For over three decades LWV-TX has worked in support of an independent Redistricting Commission to formulate a redistricting plan to draw boundaries for Congressional and Texas House and Senate districts. A major hurdle in getting redistricting legislation passed in the 80th session was to get the House Redistricting committee to schedule hearings on the redistricting bills and pass them out of committee. Action alerts were sent to League members to urge early hearings and voting on the bills. The League did receive one of the rare invitations to present testimony to the House Committee on redistricting. The League expects to continue to support efforts to change the redistrict ting process. The issue needs to be addressed at a time when redistricting is not being done.
2009: The LWV-TX board voted to authorize a Redistricting Advocacy Campaign in advance of the Legislative session, mobilizing local Leagues to work for grassroots support of Senator Wentworth's bill. However the bill did not reach the floor for a vote.
2011: The Texas Legislature passed redistricting bills for the US Congress, Texas Senate, Texas House and the State Board of Education. While these bills have become Texas law, federal law still requires that they be pre-cleared by either the Dept. of Justice or the DC Federal Court. The SBOE map was pre-cleared but the other maps are now before the Federal Courts. Temporary maps were put in place for 2012 while the courts hear the cases before making a final determination. These maps were drawn to maximize the number of seats held by the majority party while skirting the Voting Rights Act. Competitiveness has been significantly reduced in these maps, but of course there is no legal requirement for districts to be competitive. The opportunity for minorities to elect the candidate of their choice even in previously majority- minority districts has been reduced.
Bills, including one by Senator Wentworth to improve the way redistricting is done were once again considered but not passed.
2013: As the League's 2012-14 biennium began, the federal court in San Antonio hearing challenges to redistricting plans passed by the 2011 Texas Legislature had drawn interim maps so 2012 elections could proceed and was awaiting the DC court decision on whether to pre-clear the legislature's maps. In late August 2012, the DC court declined to pre-clear the maps. The State of Texas appeal to the Supreme Court was put on hold until the Court decided the Shelby County Alabama, challenge to the preclearance requirement.
During the regular 2013 legislative session, a handful of redistricting bills were filed. Bills filed in both chambers, HB 145 (Strama) and SB 104 (West), would have established a redistricting commission, which LWV-TX has long supported, but were never heard in committee. Senate State Affairs Committee hearings on SB 1524 (Seliger) to adopt as permanent the interim maps drawn by the San Antonio court for 2012 elections revealed strong Democratic opposition, and the bill was left pending in committee. The regular session ended without significant action on redistricting.
Immediately on adjournment of the regular session, Gov. Perry called a special session to adopt the court-drawn interim maps as permanent. The Senate's traditional rule requiring 2/3 support for bills to be brought to the floor was not followed during this and subsequent special sessions, which meant bipartisan support was not needed for bills to reach the floor. Both chambers established select redistricting committees to consider adoption of the court's interim maps for both state Senate and House as well as congressional districts.
House and Senate select committees held hearing on the bills in Austin and several field locations. LWV-TX testified in Austin, and local Leagues testified at hearings in Corpus Christi, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio emphasizing the importance of redistricting that is responsive to constituent concerns, reflects diversity, and grants all voters the opportunity for meaningful participation in their democracy.
Both chambers passed bills adopting as permanent the interim maps for congressional and Texas Senate districts as drawn by the court and the interim map for Texas House districts with minor changes to the court-drawn maps (SB 2 (Seliger), SB 4 (Seliger), and SB 3 (Seliger), respectively). Before Gov. Perry acted on this legislation, the Supreme Court announced the Shelby County decision striking down criteria for determining jurisdictions subject to preclearance. With the Supreme Court decision Texas could have gone back to the Legislature's 2011 maps, but instead Gov. Perry signed the three bills passed by the 2013 1st Special Session permanently adopting the 2012 interim maps drawn by the San Antonio court with minor modifications to the state House map.
Adopting the court-drawn map for state Senate districts resolved the legal challenges to redistricting for that chamber in the San Antonio court. However, challenges under the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to the state House and congressional maps continue in San Antonio, and the U.S. Department of Justice has joined the proceedings. Plaintiffs have asked that Texas be bailed-in to preclearance under Section 3. Parties are preparing for a trial scheduled for summer 2014 on issues regarding the 2011 maps drawn by the legislature, the court-drawn interim maps for 2012 now adopted by the State of Texas, and the tweaks to the court-drawn House map made by the 2013 special session.
A new challenge to state Senate redistricting was filed April 21, 2014 in Austin arguing that districts should be drawn based on eligible voters not on overall population, and a three-judge panel has been appointed to hear that case.