The question of who gets counted in population estimates remains of critical importance as a messy redistricting process looms ahead for state lawmakers in Austin right now — and those who will likely return to Austin sooner or later.
A GOP push to get a citizenship question included on documents for the 2020 Census stalled out last year. That’s good for Dallas, which would lose significant representation if legislative maps were drawn using population numbers that discount a large number of the people who live here, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.
Legislative districts are now drawn based on total population, including children and non-citizens. Many Republicans, who will once again steer the redistricting process in Texas, have in recent years instead gotten behind the idea of determining representation by “citizen voting-age populations,” meaning only adults over the age of 18. This would disadvantage Latino communities and Texas’ large urban areas, which tend to be younger and bluer than more sparsely populated parts of the state.
Says the Brennan Center:
Citizen children, not noncitizens, would account for the overwhelming majority of those excluded in adult citizen–based districts. Citizen children make up more than 70 percent of those who would be excluded in Texas, 80 percent in Georgia, and 90 percent in Missouri.
Large portions of the population in all three states would no longer be counted in adult citizen–based districts. Nearly 36 percent of the total population in Texas, 30 percent in Georgia, and 25 percent in Missouri would be excluded from the apportionment of legislative seats.
Communities of color would be disproportionately impacted. Latino and Asian American communities in particular would suffer substantially greater exclusion than their white counterparts. While only about 20 percent of the white population across the three states would be left uncounted, nearly 30 percent of the Black population and more than 50 percent of the Latino and Asian American populations would be excluded from legislative districts. The situation in Georgia would be particularly stark, with nearly 70 percent of Latino residents, most of whom are children, excluded.
Diverse metropolitan areas that support majority-minority districts would cede representation to whiter, more rural regions. The Houston, Dallas, and Rio Grande Valley regions of Texas would see sharp reductions in representation.
This report puts some numbers on it. In a map determined exclusively by “citizen voting-age populations,” Texas Senate District 23, the Dallas-area district represented by Democratic state Sen. Royce West, would be “underpopulated” by almost 35,000 people who would otherwise be counted. About 85 percent of those people who would no longer be counted are nonwhite.
Legislators have plenty of tools to draw district maps to their own political advantage, however population is measured. You can expect more legal challenges and fights over gerrymandering during this redistricting process. It’s an old front in the battle over voting rights that we’ve already seen this year.
Texas’ population is booming and becoming more diverse. The vast majority of that growth is occurring in the state’s urban and suburban areas. But there is no guarantee that the state’s legislative maps will reflect the state’s changing demographics.