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Texas lawmakers drew political maps that will make elections less competitive in the coming years

 A screenshot of the state's proposed new congressional map, focusing on Central Texas.
A screenshot of the state's proposed new congressional map, focusing on Central Texas.

Experts say new political maps drawn by the Texas Legislature will make elections in the state less competitive, meaning they'll be decided by a smaller share of voters than in recent years.

Before Gov. Greg Abbott even signed the maps into law, groups had already filed lawsuits challenging their legality. The lawsuits allege lawmakers are violating the Voting Rights Act because they didn't create more opportunity districts for voters of color, who are responsible for 95% of the state’s population growth in the past decade.

Every 10 years after the census is complete, state lawmakers must redraw political boundaries for U.S. House, Texas House, Texas Senate and the State Board of Education. All districts have to have roughly the same population size and they can't discriminate against communities of color.

Use The Texas Tribune's tool to find out which districts you're in.

However, there is little in state and in federal law prohibiting the party in power from drawing up maps in a way that disproportionately helps their party win elections more easily. As a result, Republican leaders in the past few decades have drawn maps that create an advantage for the party by splitting up Democratic voters or packing them into communities to dilute their voting power.

Voting groups say Republicans in the Legislature created very little competitiveness in these new districts in their effort to help their party and incumbents this time around.

RepresentUs — a national nonpartisan group working to end political corruption, extremism and gridlock — has been grading the maps according to how competitive the new political districts are. Competitiveness is measured by the percentage of the vote each political party is expected to get in each new district. If the expectation is that a party will get a few points on either side of 50%, it’s generally considered a pretty competitive race.

Joe Kabourek, the group's senior campaign director, said the maps have earned F's.

“We are going to see less competitive districts than we saw in Texas in 2020 and 2018,” he said.

Kabourek said his group estimates only 2 out of 38 congressional districts will be competitive. Districts in the state Legislature are also “pretty bad,” he said; in the state Senate, only 1 out of 31 seats is competitive, and in the House it’s just 6 out of 140 districts.

Kabourek said this means the overwhelming majority of elections in the state will be decided during primaries.

“It is a huge problem because you are fundamentally saying that elections are over before voting even starts,” he said. “And in a lot of these districts, 30 to 40% of the folks therefore can’t hold their representatives accountable. That’s incredibly troubling.”

Genevieve Van Cleve is the state director of All on the Line, the organizing arm of the national Democratic redistricting committee. By her group's estimates, she said, Republicans in the Legislature drew state Senate and Board of Education maps that didn't include any competitive seats.

That means voters across the state are going to have a harder time changing political leadership they're unhappy with, she said.

“It simply does not reflect the will of the voters regardless of party,” she said. "These maps do not allow people to choose their own representatives.”

Kabourek said political leaders across the country — both Republicans and Democrats — are guilty of drawing up less competitive maps this year. Lawmakers have been emboldened to draw maps that protect incumbents and their political parties, he said, because the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled partisan gerrymandering is OK.

States that require independent commissions to draw up maps are the only ones doing a better job in making elections more competitive, he said. Until there are better guardrails in place for redistricting, he said, political parties in power have every incentive to make maps uncompetitive.

“It’s not a red or blue thing,” he said. “It’s a parties-in-power thing.”

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016.