We need more than a ‘litigate later’ approach to redistricting

We need more than a ‘litigate later’ approach to redistricting

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Type: 
Press Mention
Date of Release or Mention: 
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
We need more than a ‘litigate later’ approach to redistricting By Grace Chimene and Stephanie Swanson
 
On February 28, the House Redistricting Committee met for the first time in six years.

For anyone who has tried to keep up with the redistricting saga that has kept Texas in the courts since 2011, there was a brief glimmer of hope that the Legislature was going to finally take steps to improve our current redistricting process. But the committee was only holding organizational hearings — part of their due diligence to prepare its members for the next round of redistricting.

While it might be naive to expect the Legislature to give up the power of drawing their own election maps, it is not naive to expect improvements to be made in this costly and arguably unconstitutional process. A recent Public Information Act request has shown that the state has spent more than $5.7 million on redistricting litigation since 2011. The most expensive case in this litigation, Abbott v Perez, is still playing out in the courts, so this total cost will increase. The plaintiffs in this case — the people in House District 90 — will not have cast a ballot under constitutional maps since 2011.

It’s safe to say that litigation has become a mainstay of the redistricting process in Texas; so much so that during that first organizational hearing for the House Redistricting Committee, legal counsel from the Texas Legislative Council told committee members to expect court challenges when new district maps are drawn in 2021. Voters and citizens of all political stripes should take alarm. A system that functions on continual litigation fuels deep mistrust in our democratic systems of government.

Texans deserve more than a “shoot first, litigate later” approach to redistricting. Increasing transparency and public involvement in our redistricting process can help reduce costly and protracted litigation. There is no reason for the maps to be drawn behind closed doors if the map drawers aren’t doing anything “funny,” such as disenfranchising minorities or minority party voters.

That’s why the League of Women Voters of Texas urges the Legislature to pass the Redistricting Transparency Act, House Joint Resolution 124, which would require the state to solicit input from the public in its work to develop initial redistricting plans. The Act would require the state to: 

• Hold two rounds of public hearings around the state after the 2020 census data is handed down; 

• Establish and maintain a public internet site that meets specified requirements to inform the public about the legislature’s redistricting activities, broadcast hearings, and allow for the public to comment and submit plans; 

• Develop a public outreach campaign to notify the public; 

• Post the proposed final plan on the internet at least 10 days before its adoption, and no later than seven days after its adoption, along with a map, reasoning for adoption, dissenting opinions, etc.

HJR124 would require a two/thirds vote of each chamber of the Legislature and then would be offered to the public as a constitutional amendment in November.

For too long the Legislature has secretly contrived to gerrymander districts so that they pick their voters; it’s time for Texas’ redistricting system to be reformed, so that taxpayers are not made to fund partisan battles.

Chimene is president of League of Women Voters of Texas, and Swanson is the League’s redistricting/census issue chair.
 
Published here by the Austin American Statesman 
League to which this content belongs: 
Texas