Republicans are about to lose Texas – so they’re changing the rules
A few months ago, on the verge of the once-a-decade redistricting cycle, my editors and I started brainstorming how I could best write about the partisan manipulation of the boundaries for electoral districts – known as gerrymandering.
Over the last few years, there’s been a growing awareness of what gerrymandering is and how it undermines people’s votes. But the process can be complex and confusing. We sought to find stories that would make gerrymandering tangible. What are the kinds of places that are going to get gerrymandered this year? And what are the consequences for communities that get carved up for political gain?
Yesterday we published a story focused on Fort Bend county, Texas, which is just outside of Houston, that gets at both of these questions. I chose Fort Bend because it’s a place that almost perfectly encapsulates the political and demographic changes happening across the country. The county has exploded in population over the last decade, growing almost 40%, and it is extremely diverse, split nearly evenly between white, Black, Asian and Hispanic people. For years, the county was a Republican bastion, but recently it has become more politically competitive. Democrats flipped several seats at the county level in 2018, the same year Beto O’Rourke carried it in his failed US Senate run. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden also won the county.
Nabila Mansoor, a local organizer, told me it was exasperating to work against the wall of Republican gerrymandering. She pointed to two recent elections that Democrats lost in gerrymandered districts that she thought they should have been able to win. And it’s hard to get people to pay attention.
“Trying to get the community to get really into this fight that is really kind of a political fight for our future has really been a kind of tough sell. No matter how hard we work. No matter how many voters we get out, no matter how hard we work, no matter how many new voters we get into the fold, that really our vote doesn’t count,” she said.
Earlier this month, I spent a few hours one afternoon going door-to-door registering voters with Cynthia Ginyard, the energetic chair of the local Democratic party chairwoman. With a flood of new people moving in, Ginyard has made it a personal mission to make her party as inclusive as possible.
“People ask me what’s my magic secret and I say ‘open my arms’,” Ginyard said as she bounded up the doorway of one house. “When I have functions and I have meetings, and everyone in the room is Black, I’ve got a problem. Because that is not Fort Bend.”
Despite all of the change, almost everyone I spoke with recognized that Republicans would probably reconfigure the district lines this year to help them hold on to power. I was taken aback when Dave Wasserman, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, told me that Republicans could transform the 22nd congressional district in Fort Bend from one that Trump won by about 1 percentage point in 2020 to one that he would have won by more than 20 points. Republicans, he said, could just cut out the most Democratic parts of the county and lump them in with already-Democratic districts in Houston. They would then probably replace those voters with Trump-friendly rural voters elsewhere. “That’s pretty easy to do,” he told me.
On Monday, Republicans unveiled a congressional plan that does exactly that. Their proposed plan excises Democratic-leaning areas near Sugar Land and attaches two counties that voted overwhelmingly for Trump to the 22nd congressional district. If the 2020 election were run under the new boundaries, Trump would have carried the district by 16 points, according to Planscore, a tool that evaluates the partisan fairness of districts.
Non-white voters accounted for 95% of the population growth in Texas over the last decade the census found. But the congressional map Republicans unveiled on Monday actually has one less Hispanic majority district (the current one has eight) and zero Black-majority districts (the current one has one).
The Fort Bend county Republican party didn’t respond to multiple interview requests, but I spoke to Wayne Thompson, a Republican who served as an elected constable in the county, to better understand how the politics were changing. “I think the party as a whole did not reach out to people maybe that talked different than we did and looked a little different than we did. I don’t think that’s a prejudice thing. I think that’s just a severe error,” he said.