Beto’s Bid Gives Texas Democrats a Path to Fight GOP Gerrymander

Texas Democrats are trying to avoid another redistricting shutout by asking a court to loosen limits on mail-in ballots and by targeting the swing voters who supported Beto O’Rourke.

On Aug. 31, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments over whether the state unconstitutionally discriminates based on age with its law allowing only the disabled and those 65 and older to cast absentee ballots.

Meanwhile, Democrats are focusing their campaign efforts on the 22 Republican-held state House districts where O’Rourke (D) tallied more votes or came within 10 points of incumbent Ted Cruz in the 2018 U.S. Senate election, Abhi Rahman, Texas Democratic Party spokesman, said in an email.

“A swing of just a few points would make it (the state House) a toss-up,” said Princeton Gerrymandering Project data analyst Jacob Wachspress.

With 36 Texas congressional districts to be redrawn, and the expectation of the 2020 Census adding to the delegation, “It’s the best aggressive move that Democrats can make, nationally speaking,” he said.

Republicans have controlledthe 150-member Texas House since 2002; currently there are 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats. The Texas Senate is firmly in GOP hands with a 19-12 edge and only 16 of those 31 seats on the ballot Nov. 3.

If Democrats win a majority of state House seats, they’d gain a greater voice to negotiate how congressional and legislative districts are reshaped following the 2020 Census.

To pull that off, Democrats would have to make sure voters leaning their way turn out on Nov. 3—even those who are concerned about the health risks of in-person voting during a pandemic.

So they’ve gone to court, arguing that all Texans should have the right to vote by mail.

Democrats and voting rights activists claim Texas’s 65-year-old eligibility law violates the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment grants voting rights to citizens age 18 and older and prohibits states from abridging that right “on account of age.”

“The Texas Election Code is lawful, constitutional, and correctly protects our elections from fraud and voters from disenfranchisement,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said in a statement.

‘Recalibrate Power’

Since 2010, Texas’s Latino population has grown by roughly 2 million, especially around Houston, Dallas, and Austin. Of the 22 races targeted by Democrats, 18 are in the Houston or Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

The extent to which that translates into political influence depends in part on how the Latino votes are distributed among state legislative and congressional districts.

“We need to recalibrate the power in Texas,” said Rep. Celia Israel, chairwoman of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee. “The history of gerrymandering has been to draw maps that scratch out the suburbs and assume they will be Republican.”

Matt Angle, founder of the Lone Star Project, contends that the congressional maps drawn after the 2010 Census created “at least two fewer Latino districts and one fewer African American district than what should be drawn,”

The Texas Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment.

The case is Texas Dem. Party v. Abbott, 5th Cir. App., No. 20-50407, brief filed 6/29/20

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com; Paul Stinson in Austin, Texas at pstinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com

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