It’ll be awhile before redistricting happens

They’re waiting on Census data.

The U.S. Census Bureau has again pushed back the release of the 2020 census results — a delay that will almost certainly force Texas lawmakers into legislative overtime this summer to redraw the state’s political maps.

During an online presentation Wednesday, a bureau official revealed that the population numbers that determine how many congressional seats are apportioned to each state are expected to be released by April 30. The bureau has not finalized a timeline for the release of more detailed census results lawmakers need to actually redraw districts so they’re roughly equal in population, but the data likely won’t be available until after July.

“We hope to have a date in the near future that we can provide for when the redistricting data will come out. I cannot see that it would be before July 30 is how I would put this,” said Kathleen Styles, the bureau’s chief for decennial communications and stakeholder relations.

The 2021 legislative session ends May 31, but congressional and state House and Senate districts will need to be reconfigured ahead of the 2022 elections. Under the Census Bureau’s projected timeline, Gov. Greg Abbott would need to call lawmakers back for a special legislative session in the summer.


However, the delay announced Wednesday is likely to further fan questions among some Democrats over whether the redrawing of legislative maps can legally begin in a special session.

The state Constitution says state House and Senate seats must be redrawn by the Legislature during the first regular legislative session after the census is published. If they “fail” to do so, the Legislative Redistricting Board — a panel made up by the lieutenant governor, the Speaker of the House, the attorney general, the state comptroller and the state land commissioner — takes over the drawing.

With Republicans in control of both chambers, the delay in census data could provide a legal opening for Democrats to try to kick the legislative redistricting work out of Republicans’ hands and into the courts.

See here for the background. As I said, I figured this was going to be late, so I’m not surprised. The question of whether redistricting can begin in a special session is a legal technicality, and I’m not qualified to answer it. I am qualified to observe that a lot of the questions that were litigated in Texas during the 2020 election hinged on various technicalities, and overwhelmingly the courts ruled in favor of the state of Texas on those questions. Let’s just say that while I’m fine with pursuing a strategy of getting at least the Congressional map-drawing into the hands of federal judges (who by and large would rather gargle antifreeze than draw Congressional districts), I would not put a lot of hope and faith into the outcome of that strategy. To be fair, the outcome of having the Legislature do the map-drawing ain’t gonna be great either. I’m just trying to provide some perspective here.

An ancillary question is whether the delay in drawing the districts could force the primaries to be moved back as well. This is what happened in 2012, you may recall. The filing deadline for the 2022 primaries is December 15, and filing opens on November 15. I presume everyone will want a little time to figure out their options before filing for anything, so there’s likely to be a break between when the maps are ratified and when filing opens. Let’s say another 30 days for that, so that makes October 15 a functional deadline for getting them done without affecting the primary schedule. If the data is received on August 1 or so as suggested, then there’s probably enough time, though it will be close. In this DMN article, Speaker Dade Phelan says the special session could be called “as early as September”. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to get it done before filing season begins. Slip even a little, and I’d begin to assume we’ll have May primaries like we did in 2012. Let’s hope there isn’t another Ted Cruz out there to take advantage of that. NPR and the Brennan Center have more.

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3 Responses to It’ll be awhile before redistricting happens

  1. voter_worker says:

    This, not an election, will be EA Longoria’s trial by fire. The large counties will find themselves between a rock and a hard place if they have a very narrow window in which to perform the task of reassigning voters’ records to confirm to the new plans. Current voter certificates expire on December 31, 2021 and the mass mail out is supposed to happen around that time,

  2. voter_worker says:

    Fun fact I didn’t mention: this will be the first redistricting update of the Harris County voter rolls by a completely new team since 1981. Everyone in the Tax Office who worked on 1991, 2001 2003 and 2011 has retired or moved on, to my knowledge.

  3. Lobo says:

    Well, statewide races will be important in 2022 “midterm” elections, and those at least are not going to be affected by redistricting; — at least not directly.

    In state-level races, every vote anywhere counts equally. Therefore, the logic for efficient deployment of party and aligned organizations’ resources would favor concentrating voter registration and eventual turn-out-the-vote efforts where the cost per newly mobilized voter is lowest and the return on investment the greatest. Presumably that’s in the major metro areas regardless of how gerrymandered and safe particular districts for local/district-based offices in the area may be (or how district lines may eventually be redrawn).

    There is an informative UH Hobby School article on the subject of the demographic change occurring in metro areas, and the relative contribution (or weight) of metro areas to the statewide vote tally. See: The New Political Geography of the Lone Star State: How Surging Metropolitan Growth is Changing the Partisan Balance in Texas, by Richard Murray and Renée Cross (2019)

    The impact on election results is obviously not solely a function of demographic transition favorable to Dems, but of voter registration and turnout. Harris County may no longer be a battleground for local races (because it is pretty much solidly Democratic already), but Harris County is important for the Dems vote total in statewide contests nevertheless because of its large contribution to statewide vote tallies in state-level races due to its large population size. Some for other metros.

    Bottom line: Texas Dems as a party should devise a statewide strategy to expand penetration of the untapped latent would-be Democratic voter segment now (rather than waiting for the results of redistricting/litigation) and optimize the resource allocation to maximize votes regardless where they may come from geographically, rather than focusing strategy exclusively or primarily on potentially winnable districts whose eventual boundaries are not yet known. The premise of course is that the goal of turning the state blue is theoretically within reach.

    According to final reported results, turnout in the 2020 general election was only 66.73% statewide, and that does not even reflect those who are eligible to vote but are not currently registered. That means that there are still lots of would-be voters and votes out there.


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