What is an independent redistricting commission and why is this good for Texas?

Every ten years, following the completion for the United States Census and Congressional Reapportionment, Texas's state and federal districts are re-drawn. Districts must be adjusted to changes in population demographics so that districts are equal in size. Today, this process is completed by the Texas State legislature and like any legislative bill, can be vetoed by the Governor.  This means that legislators have the ability to draw their own district boundaries, dividing neighborhoods or groups of people in ways that benefit their own electoral needs.

DeGerrymander Texas believes that neighborhoods and communities are best represented when their needs can be addressed by single representatives. Districts that maintain the continuity of these communities of interest result in more accountable and responsive legislators who can better meet the needs of their constituents.

For that reason, DeGerrymander Texas has supported removing the conflict of interest that exists when legislators draw their own district boundaries and use political information to do it.  Frankly, Texas politicians on both sides have an established track record for not looking out for the best interests of Texans when it comes to drawing political district lines.

Our redistricting work is guided by the following guidelines:

1. The Creation of Nonpartisan Independent Redistricting Commissions

A Nonpartisan Independent Redistricting Commissions should be established to replace the current Congressional redistricting process and state legislative redistricting processes.

Nonpartisan Independent Redistricting Commissions could take several forms. In all instances, commissions should be made up of an odd number of members. Commissions should be structured so that if membership includes representatives from political parties that: no political party interests can advance a plan without support from other political parties; and, so that the two major political parties cannot collude to create a plan without support from other members not affiliated with either major political party.

Approval of redistricting plans shall require approval by a super-majority of the members or by consensus of the members of the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Independent Redistricting Commissions shall reflect the geographic, racial, ethnic, gender, and age diversity of the state.

2. Fair Criteria for Congressional and Legislative Districts

Congressional and legislative districts shall be composed of equal populations - The Supreme Court has interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as providing the guarantee of equal population of districts.

Districts shall comply with the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act - The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is a federal mandate that requires the drawing of special majority-minority districts under certain circumstances: where a minority population is large enough to draw a district around, and racially polarized voting patterns exist (i.e., racial groups voting for candidates along racial lines).

District boundaries shall respect communities of interest to the extent practicable- District lines shall use, to the extent practicable, visible geographic features; city, town, and county boundaries, and undivided census tracts, similarities in social, cultural, ethnic, and economic interest, school districts, and other formal relationships between municipalities.

Districts shall be geographically compact and contiguous- Compactness reflects the notion that districts should be composed of a tightly defined area so that representatives may be able to more efficiently communicate with their constituents. Contiguity requires that all parts of a district must be connected.

Competitive districts shall be favored - The commission shall make use of necessary election data in order to draw competitive congressional and legislative districts where practicable.

The redistricting process shall be "incumbent blind":  the commission shall not know nor take into account the address of any individual, including an officeholder.

3. Public Participation and Transparency

The Independent Redistricting Commission shall conduct several public hearings throughout the state on proposed plans, allowing for both comments and questions from members of the public. Regular meetings of the commission shall be open to the public and at least 10 days notice shall be given for all regular meetings of the commission.

All meetings regarding redistricting at which two or more members of the redistricting commission are in attendance shall be considered a public meeting and thus shall be open to members of the public and subject to adequate notice requirements (at least 72 hours).

All submitted maps, plans, revised plans, commission agendas, hearing transcripts, meeting minutes, descriptions of proposed districts, and other data shall be available in a timely fashion, free of charge, via a public website and other means.

Members of the Commission shall be prohibited from all ex-parte communications with members of the legislature, other elected officials, former elected officials, candidates for office, representatives of political parties and registered lobbyists regarding redistricting.

4. Frequency

Congressional and Legislative Redistricting shall occur once every 10 years following the decennial U.S. Census and Congressional Reapportionment, unless a new redistricting regime is approved by a vote of the people or the Independent Redistricting Commission is directed by court order to create a new plan.

5. Judicial Review

States should establish a system that allows for judicial review of plans and for a clear process for timely review in the event of legal challenges.

 

Sources:  CommonCause.org, Texas HJR 118, author:  Victoria Neave

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