I know I promised a few essays on redistricting, but other writers have done an admirable job discussing it. Also, just to refresh your memory, the Republican-controlled State of Texas, as part of their 2011 redistricting strategy, decided to sue the federal government over Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This is the pre-clearance provision that provides that any state or jurisdiction with a history and legacy of racial discrimination cannot make any electoral changes, including redistricting, without clearing it with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
This was all part of a more nefarious plan, though, one involving disenfranchising Latino voters.
Republican-controlled Texas wanted the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., where Section 5 cases are heard, to dismiss the suit or at least rule in favor of Texas to avoid a full trial. Texas argued that race was not an important redistricting consideration when they drew the lines in congressional districts 23 and 27, southside of San Antonio west to El Paso along the border and Corpus Christi, respectively. The U.S. government, MALDEF in presenting the principal argument, said just the opposite.
This is just the latest issue in the Republican Party’s ballot security strategy that goes back to 1981 when individuals in bogus uniforms were stationed outside polling places in Trenton and Newark, New Jersey to intimidate African American and Latino voters. These voting “goon squads” were the first tactics utilized by the Republican Party to insure that minority voters did not vote in sufficient numbers to elect their preferred candidate. The same election, which was between James Florio and Thomas Kean for the governorship, saw registration challenges to 45,000 voters, mostly black and Latino voters.
Fast forward to the 2011 redistricting trials, and you find the most sophisticated Republican effort at vote suppression. What the Texas Legislature did was draw congressional and state House maps that reflected a desire to increase the number of Republican seats in both chambers, thereby solidifying their hold over the state legislative process. But the Supreme Court has adjudged redistricting as a political act — therefore not necessarily subject to close judicial scrutiny. The Supremes ruled that redistricting was a political act by a bunch of politicians so no big deal, they were going to do ugly things to each other during the redistricting process because the act itself was political.
In Texas, Republicans realized this was a “gift horse” and decided to gerrymander the heck out of the state to make as many “safe” Republican districts as they could. The problem in 2011, however, was how to do this when the fastest growing population in the state was Latinos, and Latinos mostly vote for Democrats? What the gerrymanderers (is this a word?) went and did was fascinating, because it took voter suppression to a new level. The perfect example of how the gerrymanderers (I don’t care if its not a word, I’m using it anyway) can be found in the way they reconfigured congressional district 23.
What the Republicans in Texas did was move voter suppression from the “goon squad” to the world of geeks. The gerrymanderers went throughout the entire district 23 looking for voting precincts where Latino voters voted at higher levels than normal — and replaced these high-performing Latino precincts, like the southside of San Antonio, with low-performing precincts from adjacent congressional districts. In doing this, the gerrymanderers split the southside of San Antonio three ways: sending roughly a third to districts 20, 23, and 35, dramatically weakening the voting power of this historical Latino community. These “drawers of doom” then split, almost exactly, Maverick County in half drawing a line west to east through both the county and Eagle Pass, halving the Latino voting strength in this county.
There were more examples but these were the most obvious and easy to relate here.
Republicans know they are short for this political world, mostly due to the ridiculous position their party takes on issues important to the electorate, particularly Latinos. So, they have to do more than intimidate and lose ballots in order to keep control of political office. Gerrymandering is only the most recent method GOPers have at their disposal at both suppressing votes and maintaining political power.
[Photo By Fry1989]