Stop treating Congressional maps like a coloring book

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Photo Credit: Channing Miller | Daily Texan Staff

The hill country county I call home, Kendall, is solidly Republican. President Donald Trump won 78.6 percent of the votes cast by my county’s voters. I had just turned 18 when my family decided to move to Austin, where Hillary Clinton won 66.3 percent of the vote. The two things I did immediately before moving were file a change of address with the USPS and register to vote in Travis County. 

Then I got my voter card in the mail. 

I was surprised to find out the very same congressional district — the Texas 21st — that encompassed my majority-conservative town stretched all the way to majority-liberal Austin, 70-plus miles away.

Texas’ congressional districts have a tumultuous history, with a federal court invalidating parts of the state’s congressional map after seven years of litigation between the state and voting and minority rights groups over the 2011 and 2013 maps. The most recent case, Abbott v. Perez, has now gone to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal.

Partisan gerrymandering must be uprooted from its place among state legislatures. Gill v. Whitford, a Wisconsin court case, is currently pending before the Supreme Court about whether partisan gerrymandering is potentially unconstitutional. Regardless of the case’s outcome, Texans must pressure lawmakers to make our congressional maps more representative of the state’s partisan makeup or more competitive. The packing and cracking happening at the Capitol in order to strengthen the controlling party’s chances of winning elections and dilute the votes of Texans is reprehensible. 

When we redraw our congressional districts, the lines must change. FiveThirtyEight recently embarked on an ambitious project to redraw congressional districts nationwide by emphasizing certain criteria, such as compactness or adherence to county boundaries. The two most laudable types of Texas districts they drew were proportionally partisan and highly competitive.

Today, Texas has 23 usually Republican, two highly competitive and 11 usually Democratic districts. In the proportionally partisan scheme, Texas would have 21 usually Republican, 1 highly competitive and 14 usually Democratic districts. This would give the Democrats three more congressional seats to match the statewide electorate’s partisan makeup, though at the cost of more competitive elections.

In another redrawing scheme, a whopping 22 out of 36 Texas districts would be highly contested. This redraw would encourage candidates to listen to voters outside of their traditional party base through greater opposition each election year. Legislators who failed to represent their constituents would finally be held accountable for their inaction and face a potential loss in future races in this highly competitive scheme. 

Texas Republicans have a greater than 10 percent efficiency gap, or electoral advantage, for congressional districts, and the current district lines grant the two parties gimme seats. Many Texas districts, such as the solidly Democratic 28th District in South Texas and the solidly Republican 36th District in East Texas, have more than a 90 percent chance of one party securing it each election year. This essentially gifts the seats to incumbents. Our representatives should be challenged by opponents consistently, not getting congressional seats like they’re the keys to a free car.

While no redistricting scheme comes without its flaws, Congress is supposed to represent the people it serves, and it’s impossible to do that when congressional district lines look like a toddler scribbled them carelessly onto a map. Only when Congress reflects the makeup of its constituents will it represent Texans equitably. Only when legislators face competition will they try a bit harder the next time around.

Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering freshman from San Antonio.