Mike Kueber's Blog

November 28, 2010

Gerrymandering in Texas

Every ten years, the federal government spends billions of dollars conducting a census.  This activity is not caused by idle curiosity; it is a constitutional mandate.  According to the 14th Amendment, congressional seats must be apportioned every ten years “among the states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.”  This amendment was required because the original language in Article I of the U.S. Constitution provided for “adding to the whole Number of free Persons… and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” 

How do illegal immigrants factor into the decennial census?  Historically, they have been counted, and because of this counting, states that serve as magnets for illegal immigrants – like New York, Florida, California, and Texas – have been awarded more than their fair share of congressional seats.  Congress has the power to modify this practice, and many conservatives have this modification on their “to do” list.

But the act of counting of illegal immigrants is a side show compared to the nationwide redistricting that follows every census.  In about ten states, redistricting is performed dispassionately by a nonpartisan or bipartisan group, but in most states it is passionately conducted by the state legislature.  Unfortunately, Texas is one of those states where the legislature jealously guards its privilege to create districts that serve their political interests.  In such states, redistricting becomes gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is almost as old as the United States.  It started in Massachusetts in 1812 (Governor Gerry shaped a district to look like a salamander), and it has continued unabated to this day.  It is one of those practices that all good-government types can agree to hate – things like vote-trading, omnibus bills, deficit spending, and straight-party voting – but can never eradicate. 

How effective is gerrymandering?  Highly effective.  For example, because Texas congressional districts were gerrymandered to favor the Democrats, the 2002 congressional elections resulted in 17 Democratic wins and 15 Republican wins, even though Republican candidates received 59% of the total votes and Democratic candidates received only 40%.  Then the Republicans (at the behest of Tom Delay) gerrymandered the districts in 2003, and the next election resulted in 21 Republican wins and 11 Democratic wins, although the Republican candidates received 58% of the total votes against 41% for the Democratic candidates.  (Personally, the 2004 results don’t seem significantly gerrymandered in favor of the Republicans.  A presidential candidate who wins the popular vote 58%-41% would be expected to win at least two-thirds of the states or congressional districts.)

Just a few weeks ago at the fitness center, I bumped into a good-government type who started talking politics and redistricting.  Surprise – he had a simple solution, which was to program a computer to design the Texas districts to minimize the length of the district boundaries.  (He liked his idea so much that he resisted my suggestion that the computer would also have to be programmed to comply with the Voting Rights Act requirements vis-à-vis minority-majority districts.  In 2006, the VRA was extended was 25 years, so it is not going away anytime soon.) 

I like my friend’s objective of minimized boundaries, and this conforms to the legal term “compactness.”  Unfortunately, Texas law, unlike the law in many other states, does not require or even suggest compactness as a desirable result in redistricting.  Furthermore, any map of congressional-district boundaries in Texas shows that compactness was not even an afterthought.  The only time that compactness is relevant is when the federal government reviews minority-majority districts.

The Texas Republican gerrymandering in 2003 that was designed to reverse the Texas Democratic gerrymandering of 1990 was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 – League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry.  Although the Court held that the redistricting of Congressional District 23 violated the Voting Rights Act, it also held that a state can redistrict as often as it wants (presumably anytime a political party retakes control of the state legislature).  Unfortunately, it deferred deciding whether partisan gerrymandering was unconstitutional. 

Although I hate gerrymandering, I would prefer that politicians resolve these matters instead of turning them over to judges to decide whether the practice violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.  One of San Antonio’s politicians is attempting to do this, as reflected in the following SA Express-News article.  I wish him success.   

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/wentworth_bills_aim_to_ease_partisan_battles_110882074.html.

3 Comments »

  1. MIKE – Your views wishing success for Senator Wentworth’s redistricting reform bill are shared by many. We just need to organize. Do you know of organizations that are supporting the bill? Alternatively, do you have ideas on how one can get involved?

    Comment by Russ Coleman — November 28, 2010 @ 11:31 pm | Reply

    • Russ, I agree. I’m not aware of any organization now, but perhaps later. I plan to contact my newly-elected State Rep John Garza.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — November 29, 2010 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  2. […] I noted in an earlier blog posting, “redistricting shenanigans” or gerrymandering has been around since the early 1800s, and Texas […]

    Pingback by Pimentel plays the race card « Mike Kueber's Blog — December 19, 2011 @ 9:05 pm | Reply


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