Why they’re shaped that way and there’s not much we can change

Public meetings in Rockdale and Cameron last week have given Milam County residents a detailed look at how the county’s commissioner and voting precincts will shape up over the next decade.

Once every 10 years we look at the maps, wonder why the lines get drawn where they are drawn and note the funny stuff at the edges. Such as “I’m in one precinct and my across the street neighbor is in another. Why?”

Here’ a (hopefully) short explanation:

• The U. S. Constitution mandates a Census every 10 years for the specific purpose of redistricting Congressional seats. Each congressional district is supposed to have roughly the same population.

• State legislatures mostly get to do that, although there are some states which try to take politics out of the process—good luck!—by appointing independent commissions.

• At the county level in Texas, that line-drawing task falls to the commissioners courts.

• But they can’t just draw two lines on their county map, dividing the county into four parts. They wouldn’t have equal populations.

• There’s another factor. Court decisions have injected race as a factor into redistricting. To “protect minority voting rights” lines must be drawn in such a way to place minority voters together in districts where their votes, and political impact, will be maximized.

• Do commissioners’ courts have the legal and mathematical expertise to produce such maps, balancing all these factors? No, so they hire expert consultants.

• Consultants re-draw the lines, commissioners’ courts make suggestions and the consultants comply so far as they are able.

• The public (us) then looks at the maps and expresses our approval, disapproval, or far more likely just raise our hands and say “well, what are you gonna do?”

That’s the way it’s done at the county level. Whether we love the process, like it, despise it or just tolerate it, that’s how precinct lines get drawn.

And it’s not going to change anytime soon.—M.B.

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2011-05-12 digital edition

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