I finally broke down and spent $25 on the county’s shapefile for 2012 voting precincts. And I think 4 or 5 of you know what that means … maps galore from all of the countywide & statewide contests here in Harris County. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

For a teaser, here’s a randomized color-coding of precincts to show what redistricting has wrought on precinct sizes here …

In my own neck of the woods (HD137), we had one little sliver of a precinct – Pct 1054 – that has all of one registered voter.

» Chron: A year after election, Precinct 2’s Morman has ‘sea legs’

Andi Morman, the commissioner’s wife and a high school economics teacher, said her husband vents less about work these days. He’s able to solve problems in a way he couldn’t in the courtroom. “If it’s a Precinct 2 issue and it’s something that needs to be fixed, I can go out and fix or make sure it gets fixed,” he said. “That’s refreshing.”

The biggest family change in the last year, Andi Morman said, has been their schedule, though she has welcomed the chance to get more involved in community events. The Mormans’ kids, Jordan, 5, and Jack, 3, have welcomed that, too – they were thrilled to ride in parades, for instance. They are less excited by their father’s many evening and weekend phone calls.

Consider this to be either a datapoint against the “liberal media” mythology … or a suggestion that John Williams is secretly ghost-writing homilies on the elected class for other reporters at the Chronicle.

I’m opting to leave the field to Michael Li on the bulk of this topic since he’s doing some ace coverage of redistricting as it goes through the courts. But there’s one point I’ll make for the time being that I think may bear some attention during all of this.

First things first, some backgorund reading. I think if you only want/need/are forced to read only one legal document on redistricting this year, it should be the San Antonio court’s explanation of how they came about their State House map: http://tinyurl.com/dysdbka.

What’s of particular interest to me in that document is how they treat minority coalition districts. Those type of districts have been falling out of legal favor as increasingly Republican judiciaries have chipped away at different aspects of the Voting Rights Act. As Michael Li offers in a backgrounder:

This issue lies perhaps at the crux of the dispute about whether more minority opportunity districts must be created under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In Bartlett v. Strickland, the Supreme Court held that additional minority opportunity districts do not need to be created under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act until a minority group’s voting age population in a given region passes 50%. However, the Strickland case involved an area of the country (North Carolina) where at the time Anglos and African-Americans were the only two major ethnic groups. What the case left undecided is whether in a tri-ethnic society like Texas, African-Americans and Hispanics can be aggregated for purposes of the 50% threshold.

The plaintiffs contend that Fifth Circuit case law clearly allows such aggregation where, as they argue is the case in Texas, the two minority groups vote cohesively, at least in general elections.

The state argues that such coalition districts are merely a variant of the Anglo majority ‘minority influence districts’ it contends have been disfavored by courts and would inject politics into the redistricting process.

As the San Antonio court describes the State House map, however, they take issue with the word “create.” They do, however, leave intact districts such as HD149 and HD26 which were both points of dispute and where each district had been either re-sliced or fully eliminated in a manner that reduced the ability of minorities to have an impact on the outcome of the election. In each of those two particular districts, the demographic dynamics are either three or four distinct minority groups and each of the districts were drawn to be electorally competitive. HD54 in Killeen is similar in that it was drawn in a way that it is electorally competitive and there are essentially three demographic groups at work within that district.

The explanation offered by the court is that it did not “create” these districts. Instead, they explain, they looked at the 2001 version of the map (drawn by the GOP-controlled Legislative Redistricting Board), the 2011 legislatively passed map, and sought to repair the dispute by making those districts more compact and drawn in a way that did not undo their present minority coalition status. That’s not quite the same as “create”, but it’s a point that will be interesting to see how the Republican-controlled US Supreme Court handles that question.

The reason I think this has potential for something big is this: the Texas Attorney General is essentially crying foul whenever there is an unfavorable district that happens to be under 50% Anglo. The Voting Rights Act doesn’t necessarily require a minority district to be 50% African-American or Hispanic, but the reality is that African-American politicians are getting increasingly nervous as they see their districts have a higher total population of Hispanics despite their district still having a CVAP population that is close to 50% African-American. Hispanic districts are the toughest nut of them all, with citizenship leading to very different needs in how Hispanic districts in Dallas and Houston are composed, versus those in San Antonio or South Texas.

But the takeaway from all of this – to me, at least – is that we now live in a world where at least more and more urban areas are becoming increasingly integrated in terms of demographics. That leads us to a relatively new phenomenon. While there still exist concentrated clusters of individual demographic groups, we are seeing a critical mass develop where more multicultural areas are seen down to the Census block level. A case in point from southwest Harris County:

That’s the same standard color scheme used for all of the other demographic majority maps: red is majority Anglo; black is majority African-American; orange is majority Hispanic; green is majority Asian; and yellow is where there is no majority at all.

If the view in creating politically-driven districts is that you have to have 50% of something, then there’s an increasing amount of the world where we live in that this view ignores. What do you draw in Alief? What do you draw in Sharpstown? What do you draw in Sugar Land? What do you draw in Mission Bend?

To be sure, that’s not to suggest that the majority of America is like that now. Nor do I expect it to be over the course of this decade. But the phenomenon is seen in more and more locations where you have three or four distinct demographic groups defining a community of interest.

I’m not naive enough to think that this particular Supreme Court will go so far as to outline a protected status for minority-coalition areas such as these. But the San Antonio court’s logic offers an interesting possibility of how they may be able to defend themselves from the more partisan cross-currents that insist on these areas being drawn majority-something. It’s likely a smarter bet that the Supreme Court may strike down Section 5 (if not the VRA in its entirety) at some point this decade and leave everything up for partisan spoils. But even if it comes to that, I don’t see the issue of voting rights being legislated in some variety going away entirely.

All of this, of course, reminds me to get back on track mapping out the rest of the county down to the block level and maybe even get around to adding Fort Bend to the mix of that task. In the meantime, happy reading of the San Antonio court’s explanation. Here’s a sampling if you still need any convincing …

The dissent also wrongly alleges that the interim map “creates” coalition districts that are not required by the Voting Rights Act. Once again, the dissent misstates the Court’s approach to drawing the interim map. This Court has not made any merits determinations as to whether coalition districts are required under the Voting Rights Act. Rather, like the minority opportunity districts discussed above, when these districts were restored to their baseline configuration and population shifts were taken into account, these districts resulted quite naturally.

For example, House District 26, situated in Fort Bend County to the southwest of Houston, increased from 44 percent minority population to 60.6 percent minority in 2010. The image below shows that the enacted plan substantially reconfigured HD26 in a way that made it irregularly shaped. Evidence presented at trial indicates that this reconfiguration may have been an attempt by the State to intentionally dismantle an emerging minority district. As the images below demonstrate, the interim plan attempts to take this district back to its original configuration in the benchmark while making slight adjustments for population changes.

The dissent’s incorporation of the State’s bizarrely shaped House District 26, despite alleged constitutional violations, constitutes an improper merits determination regarding the validity of that claim. In contrast, the Court’s decision to return the challenged district to its original configuration is simply a method of preserving the status quo until the D.C. Court has made a preclearance determination.

We have an interim map for the county. Here’s a first attempt at filling in the blanks of Dave’s Redistricting App with the map shown in the judge’s order (pdf). Click the image below for a bigger view. I’m in the process of Google-fying the map for later today. For now, Pct 2 is the darker blue of the districts.

It’s basically a status quo map that does away with the population deviations, making it suitable for 2012 purposes. The outcome of the full Section 2 lawsuit is still pending. You can get a visual sense of the difference from the plan that passed Commissioners Court here.

Since Precinct 2 is the district under the most dispute, here’s what it looks like under this map:

Pct 2 Demographics

Total Population

Hispanic ... 61.1%
Anglo ...... 27.0%
Afr-Am ...... 8.5%
Asian ....... 2.4%
Other ....... 1.1%

Voting Age Population

Hispanic ... 56.3%
Anglo ...... 31.4%
Afr-Am ...... 8.8%
Asian ....... 2.6%
Other ....... 0.9%

The baseline for the map was 60.0% Total Population Hispanic and 55.2% Voting Age Hispanic. Both of those bars are cleared by more than a full point.

The most relevant election data for the district is as follows:

CONTEST       D       R     WINNER
2010-GOV ... 49.7 - 48.5   Bill White
2008-PRES .. 47.6 - 52.4   John McCain
2008-SEN ... 51.3 - 46.8   Rick Noriega

Jerry Eversole resigns from County Commissioner’s Court, effective October 1.

I’m not about to sink too much time into trying to figure out if this means that there’s time to hold a special election on any given date or even if one is needed until 2012 or 2014 (when the term is technically “up”). I’m assuming that if anything is on the ballot in 2012, that it would be in a new district, which is all incredibly dependent upon what happens with the lawsuit and DOJ complaints challenging the new county-approved lines.

If you’re really hard-pressed for more redistricting chatter and this text-based form of communication isn’t cutting it for you, I’ll be on the teevee bringing it on Sunday. Twice.

5:30am – KPRC’s “Beyond the Headlines” … me, Rey Guerra, and Bill King, talking about the county redistricting plan. Wait … there’s now a 5:30AM on Sunday???

11:30am – KTRK’s “Viva Houston” … me & Rey Guerra are on one of the segments, talking about the county redistricting plan again.

How many minutes of fame does this leave me with now? And can I donate them to charity instead of using them for any future TV appearances?

If you watch and want to follow along with a laptop or tablet, here’s a smattering of links of interest:

» 7.19.2011 – Harris County Redistricting: First Proposal
» 7.26.2011 – Harris County Redistricting: A Night In Pasadena
» 7.28.2011 – Harris County Redistricting: The Cavalcade Crowd
» 8.06.2011 – Harris County Redistricting: The Do-Over

A couple of procedural matters and remaining linkage on local redistricting:

» Chron: City’s redistricting OK’d by DOJ
As expected. Now, on to the election. In the course of a lot of conversations yesterday, I’ve mentioned that District J seems really quiet on the campaign front. No candidate turned in a July 15 report with much over $5k. Mike Laster and Criselda Romero both have websites up. I’m not able to find one for Rodrigo Canedo. Romero has 84 “likes” and Laster has 258 friends and Canedo has 391 on Facebook as I type. Make of it what you will.

» Chron: Redistricting plan OK’d over Latino objections
The Chron version of events on the Harris County redistricting passage. The hearing yesterday was the first real opportunity for any kind of back & forth on either of the proposed maps. And in this case, the back & forth involved the Commissioners themselves. Suffice it to say, there was not a lot of respect shown toward those who were wondering why a community that represents over 40% Harris County are so impossible to draw an opportunity district for.

Latinos now are the largest ethnic group in Harris County, at 41 percent of the population.

“All we’re asking is that we get fair representation,” said Precinct 2 resident Elisa Gonzales, calling on the court to adopt an alternative map by political consultant Robert Jara and community activist Rey Guerra.

“So, I’m to give up my job to give you fair representation?” asked Commissioner Jerry Eversole, who would be drawn out of his precinct in the Guerra-Jara map.

“Whatever it takes,” Gonzales said, as one man called “yes” from the back of the chamber.

Actually, according to my ears, more than one person said that. And the story omits Eversole’s even ruder closing quip to Mrs. Gonzales.

And here’s Miya Shay’s report for KTRK …

As far as a general reminder on the state and federal level lawsuits on redistricting, just go read anything and everything that Michael Li is blogging.

Lastly, even though it’s not local to me, Dallas teacher Bill Bentzen deserves a nice round of applause for his work on redistricting to our north. The process Dallas is using strikes me as pretty interesting. At a minimum, it seems to be above and beyond the mere legal requirements for public input on the redistricting process. While there’s been a lot of talk about how many of the Houston area rounds of redistricting were open and transparent, I’d add my voice to a contrary view. The rules may have been abided by, but public hearings were a minimal requirement … not the be-all of transparency. I know of no single level of redistricting where the public was privy to any of the backroom negotiations that went on among incumbents, for instance. Wouldn’t it be great to have, as a redistricting principle, a requirement that incumbents make their “wish lists” public, for instance. I’m sure there’s a carrot/stick principle that can accompany it so that those requests can take precedence over other changes in maps that are often given convenient excuses for change that have no basis in reality. Bottom line is that for now, jurisdictions have a tendency to do the least amount that is legally asked of them. I think it’s time to ask for more.

Today’s update on Harris County redistricting is simple and to the point: the “do-over” plan was passed unanimously. This comes after the 9am public hearing on the revised plan and the 10am vote on it during the Court’s agenda.

The lawsuit against the plan is still ongoing since the plan did not deal with retrogression against the 2010 baseline. So we could get a good sense locally for how attentive the Department of Justice is going to be on such matters. That timeline should take about 60 days. We’ll see when we see.

First things first, there’s now a lawsuit that was initiated based on the first map done for new County Commissioner Precincts. Then a new map came out Friday (see below). But the adjustments, as you’ll see, aren’t enough to undo anything from the lawsuit.

Second things second … pretty pictures to click and zoom in on:

biggerGoogle Earth

And then … cold hard math. I haven’t gone through and calculated CVAP numbers for the district, but it’s safe to assume that they are just as retrogressive as the topline numbers you see here. I’d guess that they at least took the Anglo percentage to just less than an absolute majority, however.

         Anglo            Hispanic         Afr-Am            Asian
1 Total 185,050 (18.1%)  376,699 (36.9%)  398,662 (39.0%)   55,579 ( 5.4%)
  18+   159,927 (21.6%)  241,991 (32.6%)  290,695 (39.2%)   45,058 ( 6.1%)

         Anglo            Hispanic         Afr-Am            Asian
2 Total 304,037 (30.4%)  581,638 (58.2%)   82,769 ( 8.3%)   25,639 ( 2.6%)
  18+   244,738 (34.8%)  375,893 (53.4%)   59,058 ( 8.4%)   19,470 ( 2.8%)

         Anglo            Hispanic         Afr-Am            Asian
3 Total 420,205 (40.1%)  357,912 (34.1%)  149,195 (14.2%)  114,333 (10.9%)
  18+   330,374 (43.3%)  236,716 (31.0%)  103,430 (13.6%)   87,360 (11.4%)

         Anglo            Hispanic         Afr-Am            Asian
4 Total 440,354 (43.1%)  355,291 (34.8%)  144,809 (14.2%)   72,943 ( 7.1%)
  18+   350,591 (47.6%)  227,970 (31.0%)   97,798 (13.3%)   54,069 ( 7.3%)

And for good measure, here’s the Pct. 2 comparison, which gets to why the latest map isn’t significantly different for the lawsuit:

           2001     2010 BASELINE       2011 PROPOSED
          -------   ---------------     ---------------
Total               888,572           1,000,167
Anglo     (36.9%)   248,481 (28.0%)     304,037 (30.4%)
Hispanic  (52.1%)   533,812 (60.0%)     581,638 (58.2%)
Afr-Am    ( 7.8%)    83,886 ( 9.4%)      82,679 ( 8.3%)   

VAP                 626,274             703,613
Anglo      (41.5%)  203,286 (32.5%)     244,738 (34.8%)
Hisp       (47.6%)  345,683 (55.2%)     375,893 (53.4%)
Afr-Am     ( 7.6%)   58,788 ( 9.4%)      59,058 ( 8.4%)

So, if this is indeed the final map that the county intends to submit, it looks like they’re going down to the wire with a contention that the 2001-drawn starting point is a valid baseline rather than the more traditional 2010 baseline. We’ll see in about 60 days or so if that’s good enough for the Department of Justice. I don’t know what the probability for that is, but I would suspect the odds are worse there for the map getting precleared than they might be for a judge.

For the sake of consistency, here’s the view of the northern portion of Pct. 1 and Pct. 2 (shared slightly white for differentiation) with CVAP color-coding for majority demographic within each census block group. You can still see that there is a sizable portion of heavily African-American population outside of Pct. 1 while the new map does a somewhat better job of including the Hispanic parts of Aldine. You can see the previous iteration of this map here for comparison.

And if you’re not buying those CVAP numbers as anything more than voodoo math, here’s the total population version of the same map, which makes it a moot point about why it was impossible to include more Hispanic areas …

Kuff, Stace, and David Ortez have more.

There’s an official “public hearing” at 9am Tuesday, immediately before the Harris County Commissioners Court is in session on Tuesday to vote for the plan.

Not much new to report on last night’s public hearing on redistricting for Harris County Commissioners Court. The arguments tend to get repetitive after the first hearing in most of these instances. The most noteworthy aspect of the speakers from last night was that it was reflective (even if only superficially) of the fact that the plan is pretty amenable to maintaining Pct. 1 as an African-American opportunity district. The only real surprise was the number of elected officials (one fully admitting to being invited by El Franco Lee), as well as an employee of Pct. 1. Several of them shared an identical talking point – that “any change whatsoever” to Pct. 1 would be detrimental to maintaining it as an African-American opportunity district. While the desire and opinion may certainly be valid, it’s not in line with the demographics and voting history. The unfortunate aspect of this is that if it is indeed reflective of the incumbent’s desires for his district boundary, it would foreclose any opportunity whatsoever for a Hispanic opportunity district in Pct. 2, barring improbable demographic changes or citizenship trends through the remainder of this decade.

On the whole, the speaker’s list was roughly even in terms of support or opposition to the county’s proposed plan. Of the 11 supporters of the county’s proposal, seven were current and former elected officials, Pct 1 employees or Democratic Party officials. And of the 10 in opposition to the proposal, four were current and former elected officials. The majority (if not the entirety) of the more grassroots opposition to the proposal came from residents outside of Pct. 1, including another healthy showing from Rey Guerra’s troops.

With that in mind, perhaps it was understandable why a room designed to hold about 30 ended up packed with about 40-50 folks. Again, no feedback on questions. The meeting was all input. There’s also a note in the handout that sheds some light on possible preclearance hurdles for the plan:

Preclearance Question: Whether the new redistricting plan causes minority voting opportunities to diminish from what existed under the immediately preceding plan?

The emphasis is from the original copy. There wasn’t any more detail on this from what I recall of Gene Locke’s presentation at the hearing. I suspect that it will be an enormous bone of contention when it heads to DOJ.

ADD-ON: Oh, and the next hearing is on Friday if you’re so inclined …

Friday, July 29, 2011 (6:00pm)
Mangum-Howell Center
2500 Frick Road
Houston, TX 77038

About 150 people showed up last night to talk redistricting for Harris County Commissioners Court. I stopped counting at around 30 speakers for the night. The clear majority of those speakers (by my count, 15 of the first 26) were against the map, most of them for reasons of Hispanic retrogression in the plan.

Sen. Mario Gallego, as expected, led off the testimony against the plan. Rey Guerra offered his testimony, which tracks with his take in SomosTejanos. Robert Jara hit the points I made yesterday. At it’s simplest, that ought to get the plan kicked back from DOJ without preclearance. Whether it’s fixed any more than enough to address that issue without going to the full degree of creating a more Dem-friendly district, we’ll see. But I’m a skeptic that things will change much in the proposed plan seen now.

One bit of geographic quibbling that came up with the plan was the Hispanic area around Aldine that was left outside of Pct. 2. You can see a larger version of it by clicking on the image below. What it shows is a CVAP view of the northern arm of Pct. 2 (white outline) with Pct. 1 (green outline) shown as well. What it shows is a majority Hispanic CVAP area (brown) that is cut off from Pct. 2 on the northwest corner and a majority African-American CVAP area (black) that is cut off from Pct. 1 on the western side. Considering that this is a CVAP view – a fairly high bar to clear, as opposed to 18+ population – and identifies majority demographic groups by Census Block Group, it doesn’t sound plausible that it’s just too difficult to find likeminded communities to add to Pct. 1 if you cut from it to add to Pct. 2. And that’s not even getting into the fact that Alief and Gulfton could also be added to Pct. 1 without reducing the African-American population strength.

Given that part of the “pre-rebuttal” offered by Dr. Murray was that Pct. 2 has a large part of it’s border shared with Pct. 1. Since both of them are underpopulated, this poses a challenge for where you go to add population. The present plan, and part of what Dr. Murray alluded to in pointing out that it wasn’t feasible to just “start over” with a county map, is in keeping with one of the county’s redistricting guidelines:

4. To the extent possible, the four commissioner precincts should be based on existing composition of the precincts.

It’s not uncharacteristic that the entirety of redistricting principles for any level of government are impossible or difficult to adhere to without conflict. To be sure, several of the other principles of redistricting the county are certainly tossed aside when needed. But I think it’s fairly clear what role this particular principle is in place to accomplish. When I said before that it’s too common to see redistricting principles make pawns of the people that the Voting Rights Act was intended to empower, this is a case study of what I’m talking about.

Not that I think it’s entirely necessary to ignore the value of incumbent/constituent relations, but that the over-reliance (or, more appropriately, selective reliance) upon principles strikes me as disingenuous. I’m well aware that there’s a long, rich, bipartisan track record of doing this. But as redistricting moves more and more into a transparent era that doesn’t seem likely to reverse, it’s time to rethink how this is done.

Finally, one aspect of the large crowd that was a hindrance, compared to other levels of redistricting, was that neither Gene Locke or Dr. Richard Murray addressed any of the questions or concerns from the crowd. At least one of the speakers posed nothing but two questions. Neither were addressed. In other words, it was all input and no feedback. Given the quality of explanations I’ve seen at all of the redistricting rounds this year, that’s a bit of a loss in the format. I understand that it would have prolonged a fairly long night with a big crowd on hand. But it didn’t seem as informative as it could have been.

If you’re up for more, Wednesday is the next opportunity to attend a public hearing for County Commissioners Court redistricting.

More goodies that I’m belatedly getting around to with the blog … this time, the proposed County Commissioner’s Precinct boundaries. Zoom, click, download, do with it as you wish. The edits on geography that changed from the present boundaries was done by hand. So if I missed anything or got a precinct wrong, feel free to let me know.

full pageGoogle Earth