Austin locals learn about Texas efforts to end gerrymandering

Rajya Atluri

Austin residents can help end the drawing of district lines to favor a political party by holding Texas legislators accountable before the next round of redistricting in 2021, grassroots organizers said Monday.

This biased redistricting process is commonly known as gerrymandering, in which legislators draw district lines with the intent of diluting the opposition’s political influence and securing seats of the majority party — in Texas’ case, the Republican party.

Gerrymandering can negatively impact voters by packing them into districts that divide their community, diluting their voices in impacting legislation that affects their local interests.

“Their legislators and congressional representatives aren’t listening to them,” Austin local Liz Haltom said. “(Voters) have got to apply pressure to their representatives and say, ‘I know there’s a fix for gerrymandering, and it’s right there in your hands — why aren’t you doing something about this?’”

Redistricting occurs every decade after the U.S. census, but it’s controlled by the state legislature. One solution discussed was the creation of a non-partisan commission for redistricting, but this would require amending the Texas Constitution by a two-thirds vote from legislators. Voters would have the final say on the amendment at the ballot, which activists are hoping will occur in 2020.

The event was hosted by DeGerrymandering Texas and Texans Ending Gerrymandering. These organizations see gerrymandering as a cause of the polarization in politics and seek to return political power to Texas voters through changing the redistricting process.

Resident Stephanie Swanson spoke at the event. Swanson said politicians sometimes only need the support of a small portion of their district to get into office. 

“They only need the support of 15 percent of the population — that’s crazy,” Swanson said. “These politicians get elected into office … and then they become an incumbent, and a lot of times what happens is they run uncontested because people don’t want to run against them.”

Community organizer Carthy Bouressa offered attendees several ways to de-gerrymander Texas: making calls to representatives, joining the organization for its lobby day at the Capitol, writing op-eds for newspapers and online blogs and serving as a representative for school districts or other groups negatively affected by gerrymandering. 

“Whenever these redistricting hearings begin, we need people to support bills,” Bouressa said, stressing residents need to sign up to testify at hearings. “We need people to be able to go help other cities and other groups to understand this issue. It affects everybody.”