Nevada, Texas illustrate difficulties of 2012 congressional redistricting

Just a bit more than a year removed from the 2012 elections, many voters in states gaining or losing congressional districts don’t know which district they will live in, much less who their candidates might be.

Eighteen states are gaining or losing districts based on population changes recorded by the 2010 Census. Of the 18, three have completed redistricting, six are pending court challenges or approval from the Department of Justice and nine are still drafting maps.

It’s a common situation — not just for states with divided governments, but also those with burgeoning minority populations, which are the cause for most new districts being created.

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Consider Nevada, where a proposed map drafted by a court-appointed panel would not include a Hispanic-majority congressional district.

Justices got the job after the Democratic legislature and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval couldn’t agree. The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

The proposed map should please Democratic and Hispanic leaders, who believe that concentrating minority voters in one district limits, rather than expands, their influence in the state.

“Nevada is certainly a priority state for the Latino community,” National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Executive Director Arturo Vargas told The Hill. “We simply want lines that will give Latinos their due influence. This doesn’t have to mean creating majorities for them. Depending on local circumstances, our candidates can be viable everywhere.”

But Republicans in the state disagree. Las Vegas lawyer Mark Hutchison, who is representing the GOP in the case, has said that white voter bias creates the need for Hispanic-majority districts.

Hutchison was not available for comment by deadline.

The Hispanic community’s enormous growth in states like Nevada has raised the stakes this redistricting cycle.

“The stakes are high for Latinos simply because we are such a large share of the population in many states,” he said. “All of the states that gained seats gained because of Latino populations.”

Texas had the most significant gains in population, largely from Hispanics and blacks, increasing the number of its congressional seats from 32 to 36.

GOP Gov. Rick Perry signed the legislature-approved redistricting map in July, but legal challenges have delayed it from taking effect. As the primary deadline approached, a San Antonio court decided to start drafting a new map rather than wait for a Washington court decision on the matter.

The court challenges came from minority groups and Democratic politicians who said Texas’s new map does not include enough minority representation.

“I feel very, very confident that this Republican-sponsored map is illegal. There is no doubt, that it is illegal,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas). “It’s about the right of the people and the ability of the people in a district to choose someone of their choice and, in this case, the Latino voter. You really have to be looking carefully as to whether the Democratic proposal or the Republican proposal really results in Latinos being able to elect someone of their choice.”

Gonzalez said he thinks three of the four new districts should be minority-majority districts because it comes down to “simple math.”

Of the four new seats, none guarantee increased minority representation. The map maintained the current number of seats a minority candidate is considered likely to win based on the minority population in each at 10 out of 36 — even though 89 percent of the 5 million new people in Texas are Hispanic or black, according to Census data.

“Clearly, the state of Texas overreached,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Redistricting Task Force. “In a state that gained so much in population, most of it from minorities, the lack of equity and balance and fairness and adherence to the Voting Rights Act was severe.”

The Department of Justice has argued against Texas’s new map.

Under the Voting Rights Act, states with a history of voter suppression and racism, including Texas, are required to submit changes to either the Department of Justice or the Washington District Court to ensure compliance with the law — a process called preclearance. This year, Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott (R) sought preclearance from the courts instead of the Justice Department.

Other Southern states going through the preclearance process include Georgia and South Carolina, where the redistricting processes were fully controlled by Republicans this cycle.

Both states won additional seats, but to the disappointment of minority leaders, Republicans largely benefited: Georgia is expected to send 10 Republicans and four Democrats to Congress following the next election, rather than its current eight and five, and South Carolina continues to have only one minority House district, held by Rep. James Clyburn (D).

Jackson Lee said the trend is “sad for everyone in the South who is silenced as a result.”

“The way communities-of-interest have been split [means] the South returns to the South of before 1960. That isn’t the type of America we want to proceed with,” she said. “I believe those members [who were drawn out] will fight, but it will be a sad day when some don’t make it back to the U.S. House.”