One person, one vote is an underlying principle of our republic. Each member of the Texas House should represent about the same number of Texans; same with the Senate. The number of State Representatives is fixed at 150, the number of State Senators at 31. Texas population is growing rapidly, but not evenly throughout the state. So, every 10 years, following the federal census, Texas redraws the lines for each House and Senate district to rebalance. The process is called redistricting.
Redistricting will dominate a large portion of the 140-day session when the Texas Legislature gavels in on January 12th, one month from tomorrow. The Texas House and Texas Senate each have a Redistricting Committee. Senator Joan Huffman chairs the Senate Committee, Representative Phil King the House Committee. Both committees began holding public hearings in late 2019 but had to stop in March because of the pandemic.
The process takes the form of legislation. Bills redrawing the lines for House districts typically originate in the Texas House. To become law, they have to be approved by the House, then the Senate and then signed into law by the Governor. The process is the same for Senate districts.
“State House districts must adhere as closely as possible to four rules designed to preserve the integrity of counties:
- A county must form a single district if its population is sufficient for one.
- If a county’s population is less than the required number for one district, it must remain intact and be combined with one or more contiguous counties.
- Counties capable of populating two or more whole districts must be so divided, with no district extending into another county.
- Counties that can populate one or more whole districts plus a portion of another must form that many whole districts; the excess population then must be combined with another district in a contiguous county or counties.
Courts have allowed these rules to be bent to preserve equal representation (the one person, one vote principle).” (Redistricting 101from the Comptroller’s newsletter: Fiscal Notes.)
These rules don’t apply to cities. Arlington is split into five House districts and three Senate districts.
House Committee Chairman Phil King, appearing on a Texas Tribune live stream, said the committees try to keep communities and neighborhoods together. When asked about politics’ role in redistricting, both King and Senate Committee Chair Huffman deftly avoided answering. Moderator Ross Ramsey speculated that Democratic Party leaning maps were unlikely in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
What happens if the Legislature gets the numbers from Washington too late to complete the job in the regular session? The answer may surprise you.
Illustration By Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune