In the second week of a trial to decide if redistricting plans adopted in 2021 by Galveston County Commissioners Court comply with the Voting Rights Act, two county officials testified for opposing sides in the case.

County Judge Mark Henry took the stand Tuesday as the first defense witness, after Precinct 3 Commissioner Stephen Holmes testified as the final witness for the plaintiffs.

“This is a 1960s-style struggle for voting rights,” Commissioner Holmes testified Tuesday.

Holmes, who is black, is the county’s only Democrat commissioner. He was appointed in 1999 and re-elected four times.

He was also the only vote against the new precinct map, which “essentially obliterated” his majority-minority district.

All four precincts are now majority white.

Holmes said he believes he cannot get re-elected in his newly redrawn precinct, nor can other Democrats get elected in any precinct. One of the new precincts elected a black Republican in 2022.

Judge Henry testified it wasn’t his intention to discriminate against anyone, including Holmes.

Henry called Holmes the “second-most fiscally conservative guy on commissioners court” and said Holmes could win re-election in the new Precinct 3 “if he’d switch parties.”

As the county’s chief executive, Henry initiated the redistricting process following the 2020 Census.

He testified his only request to the experts hired for the project, aside from maps being legally compliant and equalizing population, was for a unified coastal precinct. Other factors were ensuring geographic compactness, minimizing voting precinct splits, and keeping commissioners’ residences within their precinct.

Race was not a consideration.

Henry said Galveston County’s growth since the last redistricting has been “overwhelmingly in the North, Anglo, and Republican,”which impacted the new precinct lines.

The county’s Latino population also grew significantly compared to the black population.

The county’s voting age population, based on 2020 data, is 12 percent black, 23 percent Latino, and 58 percent white. Politically, the county is about 66 percent Republican and 34 percent Democrat.

Holmes accused Henry of purposely waiting until the last minute to present the proposed redistricting plans, leaving little time for public input.

Henry noted that COVID delayed delivery of the Census data required to draw the maps until August, and said the Texas secretary of state’s office set a November 13 deadline for submitting maps. The consultants produced two possible maps, which were posted on the county’s website on October 29, 2021.

“We got more comments on those maps than anything else we’ve ever posted.” Henry said.

He said comments ran two to one in favor of Map 2, the map containing a coastal precinct that was approved by the court on November 12, 2021 and used in the 2022 elections.

Whether the same precinct maps will be used in future elections remains to be determined.

The trial began last Monday in the federal court of Judge Jeffery V. Brown in Galveston. Testimony was set to conclude by this Friday, with a total of 80 hours allotted for the trial, but as of Wednesday morning the proceedings were behind schedule.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.