An Unfinished Fight: Protecting Our Vote From Gerrymandering


The headlines rarely bring good news. Gridlock in DC, the latest presidential insult, children in cages – it’s easy to tune out. But, as last week’s headlines show us, a single day can change everything. Thursday was exactly such a day, as the Supreme Court of the United States delivered two long-anticipated decisions that could dramatically (and permanently) impact the future of our democracy.

What happened?

The bad news first. The court refused, in a combined case of Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek, to entertain complaints about partisan state-level redistricting efforts. In his decision, Chief Justice Roberts declared that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts”. This essentially returned the issue to the states and their legislatures (and, in most cases, partisan political control). 

This decision followed a ruling the previous week in  Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, that overturned GOP gerrymandering efforts in VA. In retrospect, we can see that this decision was as much about standing (who can sue?) versus substance (is gerrymandering allowable?). The Virginia decision, while a victory for African-American voters in the state, was simply the calm before the storm.

There was some good news – for now. In Department of Commerce vs. New York, the court shut down attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, ruling 5-4 that unless the White House takes extraordinary and immediate actions, the question can’t be added to next year’s census. However, the court’s logic was troubling. In rejecting the Commerce Department’s efforts, Roberts seemed to indicate he was ruling on the Secretary Wilbur Ross’ explanation, not the question itself, claiming a “significant mismatch between the Secretary’s decision and the rationale he provided.” 

A call to action!

Together, these decisions paint an ominous picture of one party’s vision of America. They also give us an ideal opportunity to look beyond election day to understand emerging threats to the mechanics of American democracy.

Why does it matter?

Rather than a community selecting their representative, gerrymandering lets a party and candidate choose the potential electorate. This means drawing districts likely to include more supporters while excluding voters the other side. And it helps divide minority votes into smaller, less effective pieces.

Sometimes it backfires. The crazy Dallas county map drawn by Republicans in the Texas state legislature (and shown below) has blown up in their face. Their delicate districts were drawn with typical election patterns in mind. When voter turnout surged and district demographics shifted away from white majority, Democratic victories accelerated. But don’t let one exception fool you – gerrymandering is bad for our communities.

Gerrymandering: a conspiracy in plain sight

The US Constitution lets each state shape their congressional districts. In 31 states – including Texas – it’s done by the state legislature, giving controlling political parties an upper hand. The rest of the states rely on appointed commissions.

It also kicks off a corrosive cycle. A community feels less represented and becomes less engaged. This cedes power to the majority, leading to even less representation and equality. It’s their master plan.

If that sounds conspiratorial, the case of Thomas Hofeller illuminates just such an organized project. The deceased GOP operative was key in both North Carolina redistricting (later found unconstitutional) and ongoing efforts to add a question to the 2020 census that asked about respondent’s citizenship status. 

Why is that important?

A weaponized census

The number of congressional districts is apportioned according to Census results, and districts are added and subtracted as populations change. The Trump administration claimed the citizenship question is reasonable, but it’s actually an unprecedented attempt to suppress minority representation. Hofeller’s own 2015 research said as much.  

Representation and resources should be driven by need, not status. Roads and bridges don’t care about green cards, neither should the census. The question would have discouraged participation across minority communities regardless of status, for fear of law enforcement intervention. The impact on Texas would have been dramatic, as our non-citizen population is estimated to equal four missing congressional districts

A cynical last stand

Ultimately, all this scheming is part of a plot to hold back the hands of time and continue ruling as if America hasn’t changed. Rather than remake their party, Republicans work to remake our rules. 

Why? Because they are increasingly out of step as a party with the nation as a whole, forcing them to narrow the electorate.

  • America leads the world in urbanization. Gerrymandering reduces the power of these increasingly progressive and racially diverse urban and suburban areas.

  • The nation is also increasingly racially diverse. Low minority turn out is weakened even more by gerrymandering.

  • Finally, today’s electorate is not generationally representative. In Texas, while over 70% of voters 65 and over vote, only 46% of voters 18 – 29 participate, ensuring each election is essentially one or two generations behind. Efforts to thwart automatic registration keep that age gap in place.

Looking for solutions: what can we do?

The opponents of democracy want to rule a nation that no longer exists. Our job is to reclaim a future decided by all Americans, not a carefully selected few.  But how? With the courts rejecting Rucho’s claims, they have returned the fight to the people. We cannot expect the courts to save us. 

Know that it can be done

Our country’s neighbors in Canada prove that we can move from partisan manipulation to transparent representation. Most relevant? The move to non-partisan commissions that remove politics from the process. So never ever think it’s a fight we can’t win.

Advocate for change

Our first goal is to return the power to the people. Find advocates for reform in your state and learn more about their work. The tide is shifting, but momentum is up to us. In our state, groups like Fair Maps Texas are tirelessly leading the fight. 

Educate friends and family

Politics isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but civics should be. The problem of gerrymandering isn’t a partisan issue (both sides have done it), but a direct assault on a core American value. This should be an issue that unites, not divides. The Brennan Center for Justice has excellent information about both redistricting and reform efforts.

Understand the impact of  technology

Redistricting has become a technological arms race, with powerful new tools to guide and inform manipulation and suppression. Big data makes it easy to micro-target and aggregate. That same information in the hands of all citizens can help drive breakthrough trust and transparency.

Stay focused on the mechanics

Casting a ballot is a sacred civic institution, but it’s not the only one. We must seek to always hold leaders accountable when they work to reduce representation by any means. We can build trust through transparency, always holding the powerful accountable.

A right and a role for every American

The fight against gerrymandering requires we all become educators, advocates, and agitators. Left unchecked, this cynicism and corruption will undo tremendous gains in outreach and access, especially in increasingly engaged Latino communities. Now more than ever, we must unite to protect not only the vote, but our values and institutions.

To learn more visit

A Little Effort Can Go a Long Way this Election


Texas is known for a lot of things. It’s a big state and a proud state. Some say it’s inevitably a deep red state and that’s just how it is. If you’re a Democrat or Independent on election day, the deep red talk can make you feel small in your boots, like the numbers are stacked against you and your efforts and voice won’t amount to much. And if you happen to be a Texan of color, a woman, or a young person, you might feel especially discouraged.

The good news for all of us is that the deep red talk is not an accurate description of our actual situation in Texas and there are simple things we can do as voters in the near term to have a big impact. When you look at the historical numbers, you see that Texas’ red streak doesn’t go very deep. It’s more of a shallow abrasion. What’s true is Texas is just not voting in general. We are known as a nonvoting state. Texas ranks near the bottom of the entire nation for voting participation – 47th out of 51 for turnout during the 2016 election. And this general lack of voting spans across the board, across all demographics when compared to most other states. In the last mid-term election in 2014, only 25% of the overall Texas voting age population showed up at the polls. Inside these small turn-outs, the Republicans have edged out the Democrats. But it was only 5% of the general Texas voting age population that determined the outcome of that election. Five percent is not the majority of Texans you would expect given the deep red talk.

This presents an opportunity. Given small percentages, a little effort will drive big outcomes, we don’t have to boil the Gulf Coast waters, and we don’t have to move the Chisos Mountains to impact our elections. We must mobilize some relatively small numbers of people to show up on voting day. In the laws of physics, when you are dealing with small and large forces, you can find practical ways to put in little, incremental efforts that drive much larger outcomes. We experience this when using dollies to move big appliances or watching cranes with pulley systems lift and move big loads.

So why are people not voting in Texas? Some of the possible causes that have been identified range from uncompetitive races, voter apathy, lack of time to vote, ID requirements, voter suppression and fear.

According to a study earlier this year by the University of Texas, of those surveyed:

  • 28% said they didn’t vote because they didn’t like the candidates or the issues

  • 20% said they were too busy to vote

  • 13% said they weren’t interested or felt their votes wouldn’t make a difference.

Some point to demographics in Texas. Texas is a young state overall, with the third-lowest median age in the nation. Older Texans are much more likely to vote, with the 45 to 65+ age group producing the highest turnouts. Organizations such as Texas Jolt! work to mobilize young Latinos, where about 41% of Texas Latinos who are eligible to vote are ages 18 to 33. Texas Hispanic adults are also less likely to vote than their white and black counterparts.

It’s hard to become a Volunteer Deputy Registrar in Texas due to lots of regulations. Texans must remember to register a month before elections to be able to vote and have the right ID ready. Texas’ own voting registration processes are paper based and manual and stuck in the past. The irony is that Texas is home to some of the world’s leading technology and telecommunications companies such as Dell, AT&T, and corporate subsidiary HP Enterprise who are helping states innovate. But today, Texas leadership blocks most election related innovations that could improve voter participation here at home.

We can sit in a room and talk about all the causes of why Texas is not voting and feel overwhelmed. These are all important issues and need to be addressed over the long-term. But what can we do in the near term?

I’m hoping you are one of those everyday Texans who simply shows up to vote no matter what – perhaps out of your sense of due diligence and because you believe it’s your civic responsibility. Rosario Doyle, a 26-year old Latina Texan in Austin, says that she used to believe going out to vote was the end of her obligation. But today, she realizes “it’s not just about voting. It’s about getting others to do the same.” To Doyle’s point, if you run the numbers from the 2014 mid-term election, if just one in four voting Democrats would have brought just one friend or family member along with them to the polls, it would have changed the outcome. This general rule of thumb should hold true this November too.

This brings us back to the idea that given small percentages, a little effort can drive big outcomes when it comes to the Texas mid-term. Do you have a family member or friend who for some reason may not show up to vote? Maybe they have some extra challenges that they face? Maybe they need a little extra encouragement that their voices are important and critical for Texas? How can we support Texans of color, women, and especially young Texans in our close circles to vote? What can we do to help them come out and vote in larger proportions than the average population, so their voices and impact be felt by those in power? As a voting Texan, just bringing a friend or family to the polls is that small extra effort you can make that can lead to significant outcomes.

The University of Texas study also revealed that Texans don’t talk with friends and families about politics. Only 23 percent of state residents say they regularly discuss political matters, ranking Texas 50th in the country. Those with low incomes talk even less. This is where we as voting Texans across demographics need to change things. It starts within our own circles. Invite your friends and family to tune into state news coverage and debates. Break the ice with BBQ, chili, and Blue Bell. Get Texans close to you talking about how the issues will impact them. Listen to their perspectives. Make a commitment to bring one person or even two to vote in November - Texans that would otherwise stay home. As voting Texans in a nonvoting state, we know helping others vote is part of our civic responsibility and a little effort can drive big outcomes. And a change here in Texas would be felt across the entire nation.


Texas Needs Your Voice


Maybe you’ve never voted before. Maybe your parents don’t vote. But, you’ve been watching things happen in Texas and across the nation since the last presidential election. Intolerance, discrimination, and even the desperation of families separated at our border. With each passing day, you might be more worried about our country, our state, and the quality of the lives of your family and friends. You may be angry at what you’ve seen but not sure about what to do.

You are the younger generations of Texas – those under thirty. You make up a quarter of the Texas voting age population. Fortunately for all of us, you represent the real Texas – a proud, growing, ethnically diverse state. Many in power fear your voice, and do not want you to start voting. The truth is, when the younger generations of Texans vote, it will change everything. Given the urgency of what we face today, I hope you don’t wait until you’re older to exercise your right to vote.

This November, in our Texas mid-term election, Texans will select our Governor, and our representatives in the U.S. Senate, and U.S. House of Representatives. It’s a big deal because Texans will decide if we strengthen the President’s position or weaken it. It’s an especially close race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke for Texas Senator – neck and neck. So close, that Trump will come to Texas to campaign for Cruz who he is counting on to win.

Beto O’Rourke from El Paso is out to change Texas and is fighting for many issues you may care about:

  • Civil rights and racial discrimination

  • Employment and health care

  • Immigration

  • Safety at our schools and public places

He has been on the road travelling to counties across Texas so that he can meet as many of you as possible. He’s been streaming live videos on social media of his travels and town hall meetings. You may have seen the video where he took a stand in support of NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence. Electing Beto O’Rourke for Texas U.S. Senator would go a long way to shatter the hold that those in power have had on Texas. The fresh winds of change will be felt across the state and even the nation.

To discourage you from voting and to buy them more time, people in power like to call Texas a “deep red state.” They want you to think that no matter what you do, you can’t change things. “Deep red state” is a myth. They make it sound as if the majority of Texans vote. You may not realize this, but proportionally, not very many Texans show up at elections. It’s sort of like winning by default. The last time Texas had a mid-term election like we will have this November, only 25% of the voting age population showed up. Of those, 5% eked out the red outcome. With small numbers like those, Texans under 30 could tip the election if you just show up. But they want you to think you can’t win.

A recent University of Texas study also pointed out that generations of Texans before you have created a culture where people just don’t talk about political issues with each other. Texans under 30 should ask if that is a good or bad thing. Does a culture that doesn’t talk to each other about important topics reinforce the status quo for people in power? Does it make it easier or harder for people to vote? You can easily change the non-talking culture by just starting to talk to your friends and family. Find ways to break the ice. The real Texas encourages the sharing of diverse ideas and information.

It’s also important to support and encourage each other during very tough times like we’ve been experiencing. As you have watched terrible things happen in Texas over the last few years, impacting your friends and community, you may be worried and angry. There can be benefits to getting mad. Anger can be a motivating force, making us push on towards our goals in the face of barriers. You can turn anger into positive energy and action. Election day is Tuesday, November 6, 2018. The last day to register to vote is Tuesday, October 9, 2018. Don’t wait to start voting. Texas needs your voice this election.