The 2010 election is very important to Democrats and Republicans in Texas because it will determine who will have the upper hand in redistricting. You may be asking yourself, what exactly is redistricting and why should I care? Generally, redistricting is done every 10 years after the conclusion of a U.S. Census in order to equalize population among state and congressional districts by redrawing the boundaries of a district to increase or decrease population. Sometimes the word “reapportionment” is used interchangeably with redistricting. Reapportionment means the division of a set number of districts among units of government. In the United States, we have 435 congressional seats that are reapportioned after each census among the fifty states. Texas currently has 32 congressional districts and is expected to gain three or four more seats after the 2010 Census.
The Texas Legislature is tasked with re-drawing legislative, congressional and state board of education district boundaries in 2011 after completion of the federal census in 2010. During the interim, legislative committees may hold hearings around the state to discuss redistricting and possible effects on local communities. The House has a standing Redistricting Committee. Although the Senate does not currently have a standing redistricting committee, the Lt. Governor could name a select committee to focus on the redistricting task. Once the official population data from the 2010 census is received by the state in March or April of 2011, the 82nd Legislature will begin drawing maps.
If the legislature fails to redistrict the Texas Senate or House during the regular session, or the governor vetoes a house or senate redistricting bill, the Texas Constitution requires that the Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB) meet and adopt its own plan. The LRB is composed of the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house, the attorney general, the comptroller, and the land commissioner. Any legislative or LRB plan must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
If the legislature fails to pass a congressional or State Board of Education plan or the plan is vetoed, the governor may call a special session to consider the matter. If the governor does not call a special session, then a state or federal district court would draw the plan.
So what’s the big deal with redistricting? Redistricting is all about political power. The drawing of a district a certain way can virtually ensure the hold of that seat by one political party for several years. The 2010 elections take on even more meaning as the Republicans seek to build on their current majorities in the Texas House and Senate and the Democrats seek to chip away at those majorities.
In anticipation of increased public interest in the redistricting process, the Texas Legislative Council has spruced up their website with detailed information. Check it out here: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.htm.