August 15, 2017; Dallas News
Having the right to vote doesn’t mean a whole lot if your vote is insignificant in your district. That’s the idea behind the “efficiency gap measure” when it comes to voting rights. The efficiency gap measure can be applied to determine whether voting districts have been drawn in a way that favors one party or identity group, and yesterday, a federal court in San Antonio ruled that two Texas districts were unconstitutional because they disenfranchised voters of color, like Latinxs.
According to Dallas News, “The court gave the state three days to decide whether and when the Legislature will take up redistricting in an effort to remedy the discriminatory issues. If the Legislature chooses not to do so, court hearings to consider a remedial plan will begin on September 5th.”
Texas’s districts faced trouble back in 2011, when they were deemed discriminatory; Bloomberg explains that “judges, in tweaking the interim maps to give Texas something to use in 2012, only had time to tweak the most egregiously biased boundaries the Legislature had created,” leaving the others in place. One district challenged in the recent case, District 30, passed court muster this time, but for Districts 27 and 35, the court ruled that “the Legislature in 2014 intentionally furthered and continued the existing discrimination in the plans.”
NPQ has been following this story since the initial ruling, when it was determined that the districts drawn in 2011 were discriminatory but did not need to be redrawn. However, now the two districts—District 27 in Corpus Christi, represented by Republican Blake Farenthold, and District 35 in Austin, represented by Democrat Lloyd Dogget—need to be redrawn.
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As we have reported, the drawing of electoral districts is crucial to nonprofit functioning. Electoral districts determine the makeup of state legislatures, which decide on nonprofit exemptions, grants, and regulations, as well as larger initiatives like whether to legalize marijuana, determine sanctuary city policy, or take the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act.
Dallas News quoted Rep. Rafael Anchia, who leads the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, saying, “Texas failed to act for too long. Thousands of Texans have cast their vote under unconstitutional maps. Partisan politics compromised our electoral maps, and as a result, every Texan lost.”
The ability to challenge voting districts on the basis of unequal representation is one of the main ways in which civic society can defend the Voting Rights Act and the 14th amendment. The recognition that voters of color constitute an interest bloc and deserve fair consideration as such is an important tenet of equal representation.
Texas Attorney General Kevin Paxton said, “We look forward to asking the Supreme Court to decide whether Texas had discriminatory intent when relying on the district court.” If the Supreme Court takes the case, it will be another definitive battle over the meaning of equal rights in the U.S.—Erin Rubin