Latino voting rights advocates and a group of Texas voters have sued Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas secretary of state for approving newly drawn political boundaries that aim to keep Republicans in power for the next decade by purposefully diluting the political power of Black and brown voters, plaintiffs argue.
The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Austin, Texas on 25 October after the governor approved the latest redistricting maps that will likely diminish the power of voters of colour across several counties in a state where Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office.
Voto Latino, with the support of the National Redistricting Action Fund, alleges that the new maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a key element of the landmark civil rights law that prohibits election-related discrimination.
Results of the 2020 US Census revealed a surge in population growth among people of colour in the state. The number of Latino residents grew by nearly 2 million over the last decade, and nearly all of the population gains fell within three major metropolitan areas – among some of the largest in the country.
That growth means the state will gain two more seats in the US Congress, as well as four seats in the state House.
“Yet state Republicans have still found a way to gerrymander and avoid adding districts that represent this growth,” Voto Latino CEO Maria Teresa Kumar said in a statement.
“Latino population growth was the primary factor in why Texas has been allotted two new Congressional seats next cycle, yet these new redistricting lines are further evidence that Texas Republicans believe they can act with impunity in their crusade to suppress the vote,” she said.
The Independent has requested comment from Mr Abbott’s office.
States are rolling out their once-a-decade redistricting plans to redraw the lines of political representation amid rapidly changing demographics and the GOP’s ongoing attempts to make voting more difficult while undermining the results of election outcomes.
But for the first time in decades, states are also redrawing those maps without federal oversight, after the US Supreme Court in 2013 tossed out a crucial element of the Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with histories of discrimination – like Texas – to have federal “preclearance” before proposed rule changes can go into effect.
Without those safeguards, the boundaries covering the 150 state house, 31 state senate, and 38 congressional districts in Texas were redrawn without any guardrails against racial discrimination or partisan abuse in one of the fastest-growing states in the country.
The lawsuit claims that the state’s plan “strategically cracks and packs Texas communities of color” and “dilutes the voting power of Texas’s Latino and Black communities to ensure that white Texans, who now make up less than 40 per cent of Texas’s population, nevertheless form a majority of eligible voters in more than 60 per cent of Texas’s congressional districts.”
Despite the growth among communities of colour, newly created congressional districts will disproportionately represent white Texans, the lawsuit says.
“The plan actually reduces the number of districts in which Texas’s communities of color have a reasonable opportunity to elect their preferred candidates, and it increases the number of districts in which a majority of voting-age residents are white,” according to the lawsuit.
The Voting Rights Act was created to prevent “this absurd result”, plaintiffs argue.
“There is widespread racially polarized voting in Texas. Latino and Black Voters across the state consistently and cohesively favor particular candidates for office, but those candidates are repeatedly defeated as a result of bloc voting by white Texans,” according to the lawsuit.
Gerrymandering and a history of racial discrimination and the socio-economic impacts that followed have “resulted in the dilution of Latino and Black voting strength” in violation of the Voting Rights Act, plaintiffs charge.
Former US Attorney General Eric Holder said the state must be prevented from implementing “undemocratic, gerrymandered maps that fail spectacularly to represent the state’s growing communities of color.”
“Abbott is running away from a fair fight and is doing everything possible to avoid elections with a map that properly reflects Texas’ significant demographic growth over the past decade,” he said in a statement.
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