What is the census?
Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years for the purpose of apportioning the United States House of Representatives. U.S. Const. art. 1, § 2. The first census was taken in 1790, and since that time the census of population has been taken each year ending in zero. Census Day is April 1, 2010, and the census is designed to determine the population of the United States as of that date. Census results are used to determine the number of congressional seats apportioned to each state. Texas currently has 32 members of the United States House of Representatives as a result of the apportionment based on the 2000 census figures. Based on the estimated 2010 census counts, Texas is expected to gain 3-4 congressional seats based on increased population. For more information on the census, please visit their website.
What is redistricting?
Redistricting is the process by which the boundaries of elective districts are periodically redrawn to maintain equal representation on the basis of population.
Article III, Section 28, of the Texas Constitution requires the Texas Legislature to redistrict both houses (the Texas House of Representatives and Texas State Senate) at its first regular session after publication of the federal decennial census. The Legislature meets in odd-numbered years. If the Legislature fails to adopt a redistricting plan by the end of the legislative session, a Legislative Redistricting Board (the "LRB") consisting of the Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller of Public Accounts, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Attorney General, and Commissioner of the General Land Office shall convene within 90 days of adjournment and adopt a plan within 60 days of convening.
In addition to redistricting the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas State Senate, as noted above, the Legislature must redistrict Texas' congressional districts. The Texas Legislature usually redistricts congressional districts at the first regular session after publication of the federal decennial census (i.e., the 82nd legislative session in 2011). Finally, the Legislature is required to review the fifteen State Board of Education districts ("SBOE") for any necessary redistricting.
When do the new district lines go into effect for the state House and Senate?
For purposes of determining your current district, the existing district boundaries for the state House and Senate remain in effect until the term of office for legislative office holders expires at the beginning of the legislative session in January 2013. The new district lines will be used in 2012 only for the purpose of determining the district boundaries for voters voting in the 2012 primary, primary run-off and the general election. Individuals elected to office in November 2012 will represent the newly configured districts when they are sworn into office in January 2013.
What are the criteria for redistricting?
In the 1964 case of Reynolds v. Sims, the United States Supreme Court determined that the general basis of apportionment should be "one person, one vote." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964). This rule means that, generally, electoral districts must be equal in population according to the most recent census so that each person's vote is equally weighted.
Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution requires congressional reapportionment to be based on the decennial census. Redistricting of other district offices is usually based on decennial census figures as well. Generally, congressional districts have been required to be as precisely equal in population as possible. However, the Legislature has more leeway in reapportioning other districts. The balance between rural, suburban, and urban areas, preservation of county lines and other political subdivisions within a district, and compactness of district lines are among the issues that may be considered in redistricting non-congressional districts, though the populations within the districts must remain substantially equal.
What is the effect of the 2010 census and redistricting at the county level?
The county commissioners court is the entity charged with redistricting at the county level (see below for further information).
County Commissioner Precincts
Article V, Section 18 of the Texas Constitution requires each county to be divided into four county commissioners precincts. One commissioner is elected from each precinct. There is no statutory deadline for the commissioners court to reapportion precinct lines. However, as a result of the 1968 United States Supreme Court decision in Avery v. Midland County, commissioners precincts must be redrawn as necessary to maintain a generally equal population within the four precincts. Avery v. Midland County, 390 U.S. 474 (1968). Therefore, each county commissioners court must have reviewed its county population totals in accordance with 2010 census numbers and redraw commissioner precinct lines, if necessary, in time for the 2012 primary elections.
Constable/Justice of the Peace Precincts
Article V, Section 18, of the Texas Constitution uses the census figures to set population ranges to determine the number of constable and justice of the peace precincts a county may have. Tex. Const. art. V, § 18. For example, the current language requires a county with a population of 50,000 or more, according to the most recent census, to be divided into not less than four and not more than eight precincts.
County Election Precincts
The commissioners court also designates county election precinct lines. The county election precinct is the basic electoral unit, and generally each precinct contains one polling place. Under the Texas Election Code, county election precinct lines may not contain territory from more than one commissioners precinct, justice precinct, congressional district, state representative district, state senatorial district, state board of education district, or a ward of a city with a population of 10,000 or more. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 42.005 (Vernon Supp. 2010). With the changes that will occur in the districts that are drawn by the legislature, election precinct boundaries in some counties may have to be adjusted to avoid violating Section 42.005. Section 42.032 of the Texas Election Code requires that any changes to county election precincts which are necessary to give effect to a state redistricting plan must be ordered by October 1 of the year in which the redistricting was done. Id. § 42.032.
Changes in boundaries of commissioner, constable and justice of the peace precincts, or county election precincts must be submitted by the county to the Justice Department for preclearance.
What is the effect of the 2010 census and redistricting on other local political subdivisions (e.g., cities, school districts)?
Once the census has been published, population shifts may result in an unequal representation amongst the single-member districts of local political subdivisions such as cities and school districts. Redistricting may be necessary to maintain a substantially equal population between single-member districts within these local political subdivisions. Any change in district boundaries of a local political subdivision must be submitted by the political subdivision to the Justice Department for preclearance.
What is the Secretary of State's role in redistricting?
The State of Texas is a jurisdiction covered by Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act (the "Act"). Pursuant to Section 5 of the Act, any redistricting plan must be submitted to the Justice Department for review prior to taking effect. Section 5 of the Act gives the Justice Department the duty of reviewing any change in any "standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting" to determine whether the change has the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the voting rights of protected minority groups. 28 C.F.R. §§ 51.20 - 51.28. As Texas' chief elections officer, the Secretary of State is responsible for submitting any final redistricting plans for the above elective districts to the Justice Department for preclearance. The Justice Department has 60 days in which to interpose an objection to a submitted change. If the Justice Department requests additional information to assist them in their review of the change, the 60-day clock starts running from the date the additional information is received by the Justice Department. Instead of seeking preclearance through the Justice Department submission process, the state could choose to seek preclearance by filing a lawsuit in the federal court for the District of Columbia. In either case, Texas cannot implement any change subject to Section 5 (i.e., redistricting plans) until the change has been precleared.