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Late Census Results Could Mean Delayed Texas Primaries In 2022, Experts Say

The Texas State Capitol Building in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
The Texas State Capitol Building in Austin.

Experts forecast that lawmakers will probably not finish redrawing the state’s new congressional and state legislative maps until well into the fall – then come the inevitable court challenges.

With the release of the latest census data, the clock is now ticking for the Texas legislature to get to work on redistricting for congressional and state legislative maps.

But delays in both Washington D.C. and Austin due the COVID-19 pandemic could have an impact on the timing of next year's Texas primaries, experts say.

COVID-19 drew out the process of census reporting of state demographic data. That would have forced a special session to handle redistricting in any case.

But multiple special sessions ahead of redistricting could postpone legislative work on drawing new maps until well into the fall.

"It's likely that there'll be a special session that revolves around redistricting in October-November of this year, but those dates could slip," said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

In an email, Brandon Rottinghaus, who teaches political science at the University of Houston, said that timeframe is ambitious, due to the ongoing walkout staged by House Democrats.

"This assumes Dems come back and they work through the current crop of bills," Rottinghaus wrote. "My guess is more like (December or January) since delays are inevitable as Abbott packs the specials with more items.”

The longer it takes, the harder it will be to carry out the state’s 2022 primaries in March as intended. Even after state lawmakers draw new congressional districts, they may face legal challenges, causing further delays. After the 2010 census, the 2012 primaries were pushed back to May while the maps were under legal review.

In a briefing to present the 2020 state-level demographic data, Census Bureau director and senior advisor of race and ethnic research Nicholas A. Jones noted that the state's Anglo majority dwindled over the past decade: The gap between the white non-Hispanic population and the Hispanic or Latino population in Texas shrank to about a half percent, he said.

Since Republicans control both houses of the state Legislature, they'll have a leg up in crafting congressional and state legislative maps to strengthen and solidify their majorities — but the increasing diversity of the state will complicate their efforts.

"This control and capacity to gerrymander's going to be harder and harder to sustain," said Stephen Klineberg, a demographer and professor emeritus of sociology at Rice University. "No conceivable force in the world will stop Houston or Texas or America from becoming more African American, more Asian, more Latino, and less Anglo as the 21st century unfolds."

Klineberg said he expected Republicans would still succeed — at least in the near term — in crafting maps to their advantage, but he stressed that, "redistricting will be less successful this time than it was 10 years ago."

This story was produced by Houston Public Media.

Andrew Schneider
Houston Public Media