Redistricting Battle Waits For Texas Democrats As They Return To Capital Texas grew more than any other state in the last decade. Tasked with adding two congressional districts, some political watchers say redistricting could be a "blood bath" between the state parties.

Texas Democrats Return Home To A New Battle: Redistricting

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

After more than a month out of the state, some Texas Democrats have returned to Austin. They fled to Washington, D.C., in July, you may recall, to stall a restrictive voting bill that Texas Republicans want to pass. Now that they've returned, there's another huge job ahead for lawmakers - drawing new district lines across a state that has grown more than any other over the last decade. Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin reports.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Redistricting is historically a messy, contentious and partisan process in Texas. And right now, that's the baseline in the state before lawmakers even meet to draw new maps, including for two new congressional districts. Stephanie Swanson with the League of Women Voters of Texas says things have been rocky since state Democrats fled to Washington, upsetting Republicans who currently control state government.

STEPHANIE SWANSON: It's just basically opened up chaos. It's basically opened up Pandora's box in Texas. The parties are at odds with one another, and it's going to be a bloodbath, to be quite frank.

LOPEZ: This feud has been going on for months. Lawmakers are currently in a second special session called by the governor in an ongoing effort to get a voting bill sent to his desk. Jose Garza is a civil rights attorney who has sued Texas lawmakers over redistricting since the 1980s in an effort to safeguard the voting power of racial minorities. Garza says this year is already so different from past decades, and one of the big things he's worried about is how behind lawmakers are.

JOSE GARZA: By now, we would have had plans that we would be analyzing. We would have plans that people had developed to compare against whatever came out of the legislative process. And we have none of that.

LOPEZ: In fact, we don't even know when lawmakers are supposed to meet to draw up these plans. This is a concern because lawmakers have a lot of work cut out for them during this redistricting cycle. Texas went through some significant changes in the past decade. Four million more people live in the state. Genevieve Van Cleve with a Democratic redistricting group called ALL On The Line says where that growth has happened doesn't help Republicans.

GENEVIEVE VAN CLEVE: Given what the census data has told us, which is Texas is getting more diverse and less rural, I think, you know, this scares Republicans, which is why we fully expect them to manipulate the maps and, in their words, secure a decade of power through redistricting and not through voters.

LOPEZ: Texas has a long history of violating the Voting Rights Act when it comes to redistricting. In fact, since the civil rights-era law's passage, the state has violated it during every redistricting cycle. Civil rights attorney Jose Garza says he's seen both parties break up communities of color in Texas, and he doesn't think this cycle will be any different.

GARZA: They're going to be slashing through minority communities in order to get this so-called political advantage. They're going to be packing minority communities in order to gain this so-called political advantage.

LOPEZ: Garza says his group is prepared to fight that in court, too. And this is just some of the possible lawsuits folks already see coming. Stephanie Swanson with the League of Women Voters says the legislature also might not have legislative counsel as they draw maps, which is a group of people who can help lawmakers avoid breaking the law. That's because their jobs are in limbo right now as this feud between the governor and the legislature carries on. And Swanson says on top of everything, there's an election filing deadline at the end of the year.

SWANSON: That doesn't leave much time for the redistricting process to actually take place, which is very concerning to a lot of advocacy groups here on the ground in the state who would like to see a robust public-input process take place.

LOPEZ: This is why groups say even before redistricting in Texas has formally begun, that this will all likely end in court. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin.

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