Entries in District Maps (2)


Voting Rights Controversies Wreak Havoc in Texas

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Texas is once again embroiled in a controversy surrounding redistricting maps redrawn to reflect growth in the Texas population since the last census.

As things now stand, there are no approved district maps, and three separate federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, are racing to untangle the mess that threatens to delay the state’s March 6 primary.

How did it come to this?

When the latest census came out in February 2011, it revealed  that Texas’ population had exploded by more than 4 million people, and that the state would get four more congressional seats. The increase in population was dominated by Hispanics and African-Americans.

As required by federal law, the state legislature set to work to draw new districting maps for the
state’s legislative and congressional seats that would reflect the new census numbers.

But when the new maps were released last spring, minority groups and Democrats were enraged at the results and charged that the Republican-dominated legislature had drawn up maps that did not reflect the growth in minority representation.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires Texas and other states with a history of discrimination  to get approval or “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C., for any election-related changes.

Texas chose to submit the maps directly to the D.C. court and argued that the newly drawn maps did not diminish the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice.

The D.C. court recognized that the issue of redistricting and the legislature’s redrawn maps would probably not be resolved in time for deadlines related to the 2012 election, so it asked a panel of federal judges in Texas to draw up interim maps to be used for the upcoming election.
Sparks flew when the court-drawn maps were released: Republicans claimed they favored more Democratic and minority districts.

The Texas’ Attorney General Greg Abott, a Republican, asked the Supreme Court to block the court-drawn maps, arguing that federal judges should have paid some deference and made fewer changes to the maps drawn up by the legislature.

The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the maps and agreed to take up the case on an expedited schedule. Oral arguments will be heard Jan. 9. The decision caused a near meltdown in Texas, as candidates had no idea where and when to file.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, who also runs the popular Election Law Blog, said that the Supreme Court might send the case back to the lower courts to draw new districts under new standards.

Some have suggested that the Supreme Court could go further and look at the continued viability of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Hasen doesn’t believe it will. “It’s unlikely that the court would use this case as an opportunity to consider the constitutionality of the preclearance law, but it could well come before the court in the next few years.”

Hasen said  the Supreme Court’s decision could have serious political ramifications for Texas.
“It is potentially very important if we have a close contest for the control of the U.S. House, because up to three or four Democratic seats could be in play, depending  on how the redistricting is conducted.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule within weeks of the argument.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


One Year Before Election, 19 States Still Without Final District Maps

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The 2012 election is now less than a year away, but the congressional battle lines have yet to be drawn in some states.

Nineteen states are still entrenched in redistricting battles, as Democrats and Republicans duke it out in state legislatures, independent commissions and state and federal courts for district maps that could give them an edge in the next decade’s elections.

But despite Republicans’ having control of most state legislatures after the 2010 elections, neither party is expected to pick up significantly more seats because of the newly-drawn district lines that are mandated every decade to reflect shifting populations in the Census.

“It’s really, you could say, surprising because almost two-thirds of state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, but so far it looks like a wash,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a redistricting expert and adjunct professor at the University of Texas Law School.

But both parties are still claiming victory when it comes to redistricting.

“Far from being blown out as the Republicans announced, we have exceeded expectations on redistricting,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Israel of New York said last week.

Republican State Leadership Committee consultant Tom Hofeller said the GOP could still come out on top as the final 40 percent of states finalize their maps.

Political parties have to toe a fine line when redrawing the district maps, Bickerstaff said. They can either create a few districts that are staunchly supportive, or a greater number of districts that lean less definitively in their favor.

He argued that redistricting is not as important as some people make it out to be because there are limits to how much influence one party can wield over the process.

At least four states’ maps are already caught up in court challenges, which is common during the redistricting process.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio