Redistricting talks to continue
From staff reports
Two more meetings are scheduled to discuss new precinct boundaries in Caldwell County that were proposed following new U.S. Census Data that showed explosive growth in Precinct 4, which includes Dale, Lytton Springs and a small portion of Lockhart.
A special meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Friday, and a meeting with public hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Monday. Both meetings will be held on the second floor of the Caldwell County Courthouse
Redistricting is necessary due to uneven growth in the county, which now has a population of more than 44,000 people, according to census data, which is obtained by people voluntarily being counted.
According to Census data, Caldwell County has a maximum deviation of 50.39 percent, due in part to Precinct 1, which includes most of Lockhart, recording a population of only 9,324 and Precinct 4, which includes Dale and Lytton Springs, having a population of 14,979.
Opponents of a proposed redistricting map which shows adjustments to precinct boundaries located within Caldwell County spoke during public comment at Monday’s commissioners court meeting. The five dissenters who stepped up the podium’s concerns included voter confusion and dilution of minorities in majority minority precincts.
The tentative redrawing of lines would reduce Pct. 4’s Hispanic population ratio from about 69 percent to approximately 67 percent while bringing its maximum standard deviation to within legal parameters. The tentative plan would increase the minority population in precincts 1, 2 and 3.
The current map drawn by law firm Allison, Bass and Magee shows Silent Valley moving from Pct. 3 into Pct. 1, portions of eastern Lockhart from Pct. 4 into Pct. 1, and a northern portion of Pct. 3 moving into Pct. 4.
Additionally, a portion of Pct. 4 could move to Pct. 2.
But Sarah Chen, a voting rights and redistricting attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said Caldwell County could face a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in one of the language minority groups identified in the act.
“Caldwell County was already on our radar because of polling place closures and other instances of discrimination, but voters reached out to us,” said Chen, who contended that there needed to be at least two majority minority precincts in Caldwell County, and that it needed to represent the voting population, not the total population. “There are alternate configurations possible that will draw maps with at least two Latino majority minority precincts and avoid a Section 2 lawsuit.
“I understand the late release of Census data posed problems, but please give Caldwell County until at least Friday.”
Dissenters also contended that not enough time had been given for likely opponents of the map to review the boundaries and make plans to attend the public hearing.
County Judge Hoppy Haden said commissioners were willing to take another look at the proposed map. However, he said he believed it would be difficult to change it appreciably.
Haden said dissenters’ opinions about discrimination and avoiding transparency were off the mark.
“We were on a short leash with this,” Haden said. “We had a meeting at our first opportunity to have (Allison, Bass and Magee) here. We sent a notice to both papers. There was a long list of people who received notice of the workshop. We had the workshop and were here for hours doing the best we could to do what was described here.
“There was an enormous increase in population in Precinct 4. We had to begin the process of giving up some of that without decreasing communities of interest.
“We did increase the majority minority population in 1, 2 and 3 and only lowered it by 1 percent in 4.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Roland welcomed the opportunity to take another look at the map before approving it.
“I think we did a good job in trying to put this together, but after looking at it really closely, I think there’s room to tweak it a bit,” Roland said.
Haden stressed that there had been no attempt to gerrymander Caldwell County’s precincts. Currently the County and Precincts 1, 2 and 3 are represented by Republicans. Roland is the lone Democrat on the court.
“I think most of y’all know me and know I would never gerrymander something from one side to the other,” Haden said. “I had one citizen send me a proposed map that would have made a Republican party stronghold (in the entire county). I never introduced it because it wouldn’t be fair.”
A detailed proposed map can be viewed on the county’s website.