The Austin Chronicle

New Map Tweaks Local House Seats

By Richard Whittaker, November 25, 2011, News

Much of the Texas GOP's effort spent on gerrymandered districts and voter suppression may go to waste as federal judges and the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice continue to reject and question both the redistricting maps and the voter ID bill state legislators shoved through last session.

On Nov. 16, Justice Department voting section chief T. Christian Herren Jr. wrote to Texas Elections Division Director Ann McGee­han, telling her the data provided by the state in relation to new voter ID rules was "incomplete." As it did not include enough information about Hispanic voters, Herren's department could not verify that the rules comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The next day, the GOP's gerrymandering effort took a similar blow. A panel of three U.S. district judges issued interim Texas House and Senate maps for the 2012 elections. Statewide, the big story is that they agreed to return Democrat Wendy Davis' Fort Worth state Senate district effectively to its pre-2011 boundary lines. On the House side, most Democrats have responded positively to the majority map, calculating that it adds true minority representation back to nine districts. However, GOP Speaker Joe Straus, who helped usher the gerrymandered plan through the House, fired back that the map "goes much further than is necessary to correct any perceived legal defects in the recently adopted redistricting plan" and threatened to appeal.

The federal court's Senate plan leaves Travis County untouched but seriously tweaks several local House seats – primarily in the lines between Rep. Mark Strama's House District 50 and fellow Democrat Dawnna Dukes' HD 46, as well as Democrat Donna Howard's HD 48 and Republican Paul Workman's HD 47. However, local Demo­crats argue that it does little to change the local balance of power. Dukes said the new map actually returns her district to the pre-2001, Tom DeLay-drawn lines, while Strama was positive about the precinct swaps: "I looked at the numbers from the previous election, and it continues to be a competitive district." When asked to comment on her new battle lines, Howard simply replied by text, "HD 48 strong D; HD 47 strong R."

At press time, new congressional maps had not been released.

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