CLC Joins Lawsuit Against Racially Discriminatory Galveston County, TX Voting Map

Issues
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A map of the state of Texas

Voters should be able to live under maps where they can choose their leaders, instead of giving self-interested politicians the power to pick their voters. In order to have fair and equitable representation, communities must be able to remain together, and voters must be able to have an equal voice.

To combat a racially targeted attack on voters’ right to equitable representation, on Jan. 18, 2022, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) joined a longstanding federal lawsuit against Galveston County, Texas for approving maps that would intentionally discriminate against and dilute the electoral power of Black and Latino voters.

As a result, they would be unable to elect their preferred candidates to the Galveston County Commissioner’s Court (county commission) and Justices of Peace Office, despite the fact that Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans comprise nearly half - 44.3% - of people in the county.

The new map specifically targets the county commission district known as Precinct 3, taking it away from the communities that it has represented for decades. Under the old map, the precinct cut through the heart of Galveston County, including an area where the majority of voters were Black or Hispanic.

Now the largely white northwest corner of the county has been included in Precinct 3. The addition of this new constituency is projected to cancel out the votes of Black and Latino voters.

It also uses justices of peace districts that would reduce Black and Latino voting power. These districts have been one of the targets of this lawsuit since 2013.

This is not the first time that Galveston County has tried to create a map that would prevent communities of color from having political representation in local government.

In 2011, the county hired a firm notorious for partisan and racial gerrymandering to redraw districts for the county commission, justices of the peace and constable offices. The county hired the same lawyers this year to draw this unconstitutional map.

However, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) blocked the districts from being implemented in 2012, claiming that they violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by decreasing the representation of communities of color.

A year later, Galveston County became one of the first jurisdictions to enact its discriminatory justice of the peace and constable offices districts following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder.

In this decision, the Court invalidated the preclearance formula, which hindered the ability of the federal government to identify jurisdictions with long histories of racial discrimination in voting and subject their proposed changes to review before they enacted new election policies or voting maps.

This year’s redistricting cycle is the first that has taken place since the Court’s decision in Shelby County, leaving Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American more vulnerable to attacks on their right to vote than they have been in decades.

As part of this, in Texas and several other states, there has been a trend of politicians creating extremely gerrymandered maps to stifle the voting power of communities of color at the federal, state and local levels.

For example, in North Carolina, politicians have been hard at work finalizing maps that would exclude communities of color from power. These new maps could eliminate the seats of one-third of Black state senators, one-fifth of Black state representatives and one of two Black members of Congress from the state.

This problem is especially insidious at the local level because it is difficult to track the activity of thousands of county governments without the benefit of federal oversight. As a result, many local governments who were formerly subject to preclearance, like Galveston County, are engaging in racial gerrymandering with impunity.

Whatever our color, background or zip code, most of us believe that elections should be determined by voters, not politicians. The court should block the new Galveston County Commissioner’s Court maps from going into effect and instead draw them in a way that gives all voters in the county an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice.

Valencia is an Equal Justice Works fellow at CLC.
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