Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released figures that support predictions that Latinos will soon outnumber whites in Texas. Latinos already make up 38 percent of the state’s population and two-thirds of the state’s 4.3 million population increase over the last ten years. The Texas State Data Center projects that Latinos will become the majority in the state over the next decade.
The dramatic demographic transformation has sparked a redistricting war in Texas that has culminated in a lawsuit brought against Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and the state of Texas filed on behalf of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC). The Latino lawmakers allege that current redistricting activities are based on a flawed and discriminatory undercount of the Latino population. Courthouse News reports:
The Caucus says Texas’ unfair 2011 redistricting plan was based on faulty 2010 Census data that “severely undercounts Latinos,” especially in poor areas along the Texas-Mexican border: “Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb and El Paso Counties, as well as urban areas in Dallas and Houston.” It says the “2010 Census process and procedures resulted in substantial omissions in Latino population.”
It claims that Census Bureau was aware that “people in poor urban communities are harder to count, as are people who live in poor suburban unincorporated subdivisions primarily located along the Texas-Mexican border and often referred to as ‘colonias.’” [...] The Caucus claims that “after promoting and advertising and educating the community in these counties of the use of the ‘mail-out, mail-in’ counting strategy the Census Bureau announced on the day the Census was to commence that this strategy would not be employed for the ‘colonias.’” As a result, Latinos along the state’s border were undercounted by 4 to 8 percent, the Caucus claims.
MALC’s lawsuit was reportedly filed just as Hidalgo county officials were preparing their own litigation against the U.S. Census Bureau. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia claims that the final county census tally was short by as many as 250,000 people, which could result in $300 million to $400 million in lost federal funding for education, health care and infrastructure.
Ultimately, a Census undercount may not be the only legal issue at play. State Rep. Robert Alonzo (D) reminds the Republican-controlled state that “The reason for us being here is to remind them that if they don’t do it the right way now, it’s going to be done the right way in courts.” The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires Texas, along with eight other southern states with a history of voter discrimination, to obtain federal approval of any new voter district map.
Alonzo would like to see four new Latino majority districts. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) has presented a redistricting plan that would create nine new Latino districts. Yet, the map being debated in the House Redistricting Committee is simply designed to elect a strong majority of Republicans and adds only one new Latino district in the Corpus Christi area.
Obviously, there are a lot of competing interests in play here. The Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune points out that the map was met with a “backlash of protests from conservative Republicans who feel they are being shut out, and, of course, from Tea Partiers who say the proposals are unfair; from the Hispanic community who say they feel the maps ignore the state’s dramatic growth in the Hispanic population since the last Census count, and even the Asian communities.”
Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that the creation of only one new Latino district in a state where Latinos are driving population growth and will soon be the majority amounts to anything short of Republican gerrymandering. Rather than trying to rig Texas’ voting districts, the Republican Party may be better off rethinking the policy positions that threaten its vitality in a Latino-majority state.