Senior elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich explains why several advocacy groups have argued that Texas’s new congressional map discriminates against people of color. He also breaks down what this gerrymander might mean for the 2022 midterms.
Nathaniel Rakich: Everything is bigger in Texas. Even the gerrymanders.
Last year, Texas was one of the first states to redraw its congressional districts with updated population numbers from the 2020 census. Most states have now completed that process, but Texas’s remap still arguably wins “best in show” for the most potent gerrymander in the country.
One way of measuring a map’s partisan bias is a statistic called efficiency gap. This is a bit wonky, but basically it quantifies which party is more efficient at turning votes into seats. For example, Texas’s new congressional map has an efficiency gap of R+15, which means Republicans should be expected to win 15 percent more seats under this map than under a perfectly fair one.
And because Texas is so huge, that’s a ton of seats! Fifteen percent of Texas’s 38 congressional districts comes out to almost six extra US House seats for Republicans. That’s by far the biggest advantage for any party in any state that has finished redistricting. I mean, if gerrymandering were tequila, this would be some really strong stuff.
There’s another problem with Texas’s map: It would virtually eliminate competitive House races in the state. Texas’s old congressional map had a whopping 14 districts that could be considered competitive; the new one has only three. In other words, if you live in suburban Houston or Dallas, your vote used to be really important in US House elections — it might have been the difference between electing a Democrat and electing a Republican. But now, you’re stuck in a district whose election outcome is essentially preordained.
And the Republicans who drew Texas’s new map, bless their hearts, did this specifically to protect Republican members of Congress whose once safely red seats have been trending toward Democrats in recent elections. Eight Republican-held districts got at least 13 percentage points redder.
Finally, Texas’s new map doesn’t just have a partisan bias. It may be a racial gerrymander as well. Between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, Texas’s population increased by a whopping 4 million people; 95 percent of the state’s net growth was due to people of color, and almost 50 percent was due to Latinos. But even though that population growth Texas earned two additional seats in Congress, the number of majority-Hispanic districts stayed the same. And although there are now almost as many Hispanic Texans as non-Hispanic white Texans, there are more than twice as many majority-white districts as majority-Hispanic districts.
As a result several advocacy groups — and even the U.S. Department of Justice — have filed lawsuits arguing that Texas’s new map discriminates against people of color. In fact, there are no fewer than four court cases currently on the docket over the map.
But if the courts ever do overturn the map, it won’t be before the 2022 election. Even the groups suing have acknowledged that there’s not enough time to draw new maps before the midterms. So even if the map is eventually found to be racially discriminatory, an entire election will have taken place under it no matter what. That would be a Texas-sized injustice.