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Q&A: Representation ‘on the line’ as Texas redistricting begins, UH political scientist says


Santiago Gaughan/The Cougar

Every 10 years, the Texas Legislature uses Census data for redistricting — the line-drawing porcess that determines how representation will be broken down across the state. 

The process can be confusing and complicated, so UH political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus broke down how redistricting works and how it might affect you. 

How exactly does redistricting work?

Rottinghaus: The census is truly a count of the people living in the state, and there are three primary ways that they are collecting information about people. There are some folks who went online and filled out the census forms, some people who filled the census forms out that were sent physically to their houses, or they filled it out with census takers, who will come door to door in some neighborhoods. 

Then they use that information in all kinds of ways. The most pertinent in this case is to be able to decide who lives where. 

Basically, the Texas Legislature has to draw these lines. I guess really, it’s kind of two phases, you’ve got the legislative phase, which will draw the lines of who represents what parts of the state, and then you’ll have the legal phase, which will certify that the lines have been drawn legally. 

Why is it such a long process?

Rottinghaus: I guess that’s where it gets kind of complicated because there have been times in the state’s history where the process has taken a really long time. So for instance, the lines that were drawn in 2003, didn’t get finalized until 2008 or 2009. They had to push off primaries and get the courts to redraw the lines and then certify those lines, the legislature had to relocate those lines. 

So it’s basically a big mess — and will be a mess again — because the politics of this are so critical to the future of both parties that neither side wants to give an edge.

Why is it such a big deal?

Rottinghaus: This is a question of race and ethnicity as much as it is about just counting individual people where the districts grow. It will be connected to the growth of the individuals in these racial and ethnic categories. 

The line drawers will have to accommodate the growth of ethnic and racial minorities when they draw these lines. If not, they risk being challenged with a voting rights violation. 

The court has hundreds of rules that have been developed over the course of decades of litigation on redistricting that specify what can and cannot be included in terms of drawing these lines. So ultimately, what the line drawers would allegedly like is to draw lines that they see as promoting their partisans in districts and accommodating the racial growth to allow for the fair access to representation. 

Now, how will this affect Houston?

Rottinghaus: In terms of why it’s important, the biggest growth in Texas has come from suburban and urban areas, especially in Houston — and it has come from primarily younger and Latino Texans. 

So the makeup of the specific legislative lines in Houston may be very different than it was. Where the lines get drawn dictate political accountability and representation. That was really the core of what the redistricting process does, and Houston will be the epicenter of these changes because there’s been such tremendous growth in the region. 

And finally, why should college students care?

Rottinghaus: One thing that it does in terms of college students is that where they live will be connected to a specific district, and that might be different than it was before. So trying to make sure their voices are heard will be connected intimately to the lines that are drawn.

The University will probably stay in the same districts as they were, but the lines may change a little bit. Whether a person votes where they live on campus, or whether they vote where they live more permanently, the lines may change. Their connection to the political world will be slightly different.

Basically, representation is on the line. Where they live is potentially going to be in a different district than where it was, and that has implications for their own connection to accountability and to representation.

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