Galveston Voters Are Still Fighting for Fair Maps and an Equal Say

A man stands with his hand against a door. A sign on the doors reads "Governor's Public Reception Room, Closed, Do Not Enter, Meeting in Progress"
Rev. Edward Grogan, of Galveston, prays outside the office of Gov. Greg Abbott at the Capitol in Austin, Texas during a prayer rally against bills that would make it harder to vote on Thursday July 15, 2021. Photo by Jay Janner/USA TODAY NETWORK

Black and Latino voters in Galveston County, Texas — the birthplace of Juneteenth — have long been denied a voice in county government, an unjust reality that perpetuates centuries of discrimination.

Last year, that appeared to change. In October 2023, Campaign Legal Center and our partners won an important victory on behalf of Galveston voters: A federal judge ruled that Galveston County’s redistricting map, which denied Galveston’s Black and Latino voters the equal opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice, violated Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).

In an unprecedented and unfair twist, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which oversees Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas and is only a step below the Supreme Court, allowed the illegal county voting map — one that the federal judge deemed “mean-spirited” and “egregious” in his October 2023 ruling striking down the map — to remain in place for the 2024 election while it is being appealed.  

This map does not allow Black and Latino voters, who comprise nearly half of the county’s population, to elect a representative of their choice in any of the county’s four districts. In other words, Galveston County’s Black and Latino voters are being forced to vote, once again, under an illegal, discriminatory map that silences their voices.  

Over 150 years after Juneteenth, when over 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were informed of their freedom by the Union Army, Black and Latino voters in Galveston are still fighting for an equal voice in our democracy.

In May 2024, the entire Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in the case. Depending on the outcome, Black and Latino voters in Galveston may finally get fair maps and an equal voice in our elections.

On the other hand, the Fifth Circuit could undermine an important component of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA): coalition districts.

Coalition districts ensure that voters from different marginalized groups who live in the same area, have similar interests, face a shared history of past and present-day discrimination, and form a majority within the district can still elect candidates who best serve their communities.  

When voters of color in a coalition district sue for fair representation under the Voting Rights Act — as Black and Latino voters did in Galveston — this is called a “coalition claim.” These claims have been consistently upheld as fair game by the Fifth Circuit.  

The Fifth Circuit has the chance to uphold its own precedent — affirming coalition claims under the Voting Rights Act — and protect the freedom to vote for all of Galveston's voters by validating the original findings that Galveston County’s redistricting plan is unjust. Justice has already been delayed for too long and should not be delayed any longer.

This much is clear: After centuries of discrimination, and decades of documented racial discrimination in voting, Galveston County’s Black and Latino voters deserve an opportunity to make their voices heard in county government.

Valencia is a Legal Counsel, Voting Rights at CLC.