The State of Voting in Texas: Late Summer 2017 Edition

The state of voting in Texas is up in the air.
The state of voting in Texas is up in the air.
U.S. Elections Project
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Last week, two court decisions came down that could change the course of electoral politics in Texas — and Dallas County — for the 2018 midterms and beyond.

A U.S. District Judge in Corpus Christi tossed the state's new voter ID law Wednesday, ruling that it unconstitutionally discriminated against the state's poor and minority populations. Late Thursday, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled that nine Texas House districts were illegally gerrymandered in order to dilute the voting power of minorities when the state last drew its legislative map in 2011.

The panel determined that three Dallas County districts, House Districts 103, 104 and 105, illegally "packed and cracked" Latino voters in order to dilute their impact on elections. The court agreed with plaintiffs in the redistricting case that the lines of House Districts 103 and 104 were drawn in order to concentrate Dallas County's Latino voters in districts represented by Rafael Anchia and Robert Alonzo, giving Grand Prairie Republican Rodney Anderson a better chance to keep his seat in House District 105. An equitable redrawing of the map, which the court said must occur before the 2018 election cycle, could give Democrats in Dallas County an additional seat in their caucus.

"Specifically, the Court found that map drawers improperly used race to make HD 103 and HD 104 more Hispanic and HD 105 more Anglo to protect an Anglo Republican," U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez wrote.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Fort Worth, who is policy chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the plaintiffs in the redistricting case, said last week's rulings are proof that Texas' Republican leadership is ignoring the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

"From forcing unnecessary voter ID laws through the legislative process to rigging our elections using gerrymandered electoral maps, Texas Republicans have shown they must cheat in order to win," Rodriguez said. "Nine Texas House districts ... must be redrawn to remedy their past discrimination. The process of fixing these districts has the potential to shake up Texas politics and the makeup of Congress in 2018 and beyond."

In a response to the panel's request for a special session of the Texas Legislature to redraw the state's legislative maps, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a short statement saying he plans to appeal the ruling. James Dickey, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, said that if redistricting occurs, he hopes the legislature draws maps without regard to race.

"We oppose any identification of citizens by race, origin, or creed and oppose use of any such identification for purposes of creating voting districts. If lawmakers are forced to redraw these House districts, we ask that they be drawn accordingly," he said. Throughout the redistricting trial, the state has said it drew the map at issue to gain partisan advantage but has claimed it did so without regard to race.

In addition to the Dallas County districts, the court also said two Tarrant County districts, House Districts 90 and 93, were drawn to protect a white Republican, Matt Krause, at the expense of an urban county's growing Latino population.

Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos' decision in the voter ID case marks the fifth time a federal court has ruled against one of Texas' two attempts to pass legislation requiring voters to present photo identification in order to get a ballot. Paxton plans to appeal Ramos' decision in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court ruled that Texas' 2011 voter ID law, Senate Bill 14, unfairly affected Texas' minority population and sent the lawsuit, brought by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Dallas, back to Ramos to determine whether the Texas Legislature wrote the law in order to discriminate.

In her ruling, Ramos said that Texas' legislators targeted minority voters, who are statistically less likely to have photo IDs. Senate Bill 4, the legislature's attempt to repair the 2011 law, did nothing to remedy the issues with the first law, Ramos said, because it didn't widen the range of IDs that would count as acceptable for getting ballots.

“SB 5 [the 2017 law] does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country,” she wrote. "Not one of the discriminatory features of [the old law] is fully ameliorated by the terms of SB 5."

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