Remember the lawsuit that was filed over the redistricting map for Harris County Commissioners Court? It’s been on hold since the beginning of the year, after an interim map was drawn to get us through this election and since the main point of contention in the new map was not an issue yet. Now that the 2012 election is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to get this lawsuit going. The hearing began yesterday, and as always it comes down to the numbers.
The county’s map added a bloc of reliably conservative voters in the northeast to Precinct 2, and reduced the precinct’s concentration of Hispanic citizens of voting age from 34.9 percent to 33.8 percent, [plaintiffs’ attorney Chad] Dunn said. An interim map for use in this fall’s elections, drawn as part of the lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore last year, put that number at 40.4 percent.
County officials say the need to protect Precinct 1, a black-opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act, made it difficult to add Latinos to Precinct 2 because they share a long border. Dunn said he will show both precincts can be drawn as minority-opportunity districts.
Dunn said taxpayers, essentially, are footing the bill for [Commissioner Jack] Morman’s campaign, saying only “illegal redistricting” would allow Morman to retain the seat he earned in an “outlier” election.
“We’re happy with a map very similar to what the judge drew, but it appears Harris County is unwilling to come to a map along those lines,” Dunn said. “A majority of Harris County Commissioners Court has determined they’re willing to spend large amounts of taxpayer funds in order to drown out the voices of Latino voters.”
The U.S. Department of Justice “pre-cleared” Harris County’s redistricting map last year, saying it did not violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Dunn and Ray said that is because the Justice Department agreed Precinct 2 did not have protected status and could be altered. Dunn said he will argue, under Section 2 of the act, that the precinct should be declared a protected district.
Ray said going to trial could result in a rougher road to re-election for Morman than under the interim map the plaintiffs say they would accept.
“The map drawn by the judge, should the plaintiffs prevail, could be a lot more favorable for a Hispanic being elected in Precinct 2 than it is at present,” Ray said. “The real risky gamble of going forward is for Precinct 2.”
More on the preclearance of the map is here, and of course Greg has the numbers from the original map, the do-over map that Harris County is defending, and the interim map from whence the image embedded in the post comes. Now that I have a draft canvass for Harris County I’ll be looking at the relevant numbers for the Commissioners Court precincts. The nice thing about the special election in Precinct 4 is that I can easily suss out the numbers for all four CC precincts, since three of the Commissioners were on the ballot. Look for a post on that in the coming days, possibly after Thanksgiving.