A group of Harris County voters is suing to stop Democrats’ redistricting plan for county commissioners, alleging the new maps unconstitutionally strip them and more than a million of their neighbors of their legal right to vote in next year’s county elections.
Plaintiffs include three minority voters who stand to be disenfranchised by new district lines, along with the county’s two Republican commissioners, Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle.
The redistricting scheme proposed by Commissioner Rodney Ellis, one of three Democrats on the Harris County Commissioners Court, is designed to increase Democrats’ control over the county government to a 4-1 majority.
Commissioners court adopted the “Ellis 3 Plan” in October on a party-line vote.
The lawsuit, filed in state court last week, argues the new maps violate voters’ rights under the Texas Constitution by needlessly moving citizens from even-numbered to odd-numbered voting precincts.
The Texas Constitution establishes staggered elections for county commissioners. County precincts 2 and 4 are set to vote in 2022, while precincts 1 and 3 will vote next in 2024.
Plaintiff Alan Vera, a conservative leader within the Harris County Republican Party, explained:
The Ellis map moves over a million Harris County voters who did not get to vote for commissioner last year to a new precinct where they won’t get to vote for commissioner next year, either. Those voters will have gone six years without the right to vote for a county commissioner, when they’re entitled to vote for commissioner every four years.
“Democrats on Commissioners Court were so intent on padding their 3-2 majority that they callously and intentionally trampled on our clients’ sacred right—the right to elect their government officials and to participate in the electoral process,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Andy Taylor.
Officials are required to redraw voting district lines every 10 years, in accordance with new census data, to ensure “one person, one vote” proportionality. County precincts must be drawn with no more than a 10 percent population deviation.
Courts have upheld partisan redistricting plans, but as Taylor notes, districts can’t be redrawn “in a manner that violates the constitutional rights of voters in those precincts.”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys prepared an alternate map that is constitutionally valid and moves just a fraction of the voters that the Democrats’ plan does.
The lawsuit asks the court to temporarily halt implementation of the Ellis 3 Plan and send the Harris County Commissioners Court back to the drawing board.
If commissioners failed to adopt an acceptable redistricting plan in time for the primaries, the county could use the current maps or the plan provided by plaintiffs for the 2022 election cycle. The candidate filing deadline would be extended as necessary.
Democrats including County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who is being sued along with the county, defended Ellis’ plan as complying with redistricting criteria set by commissioners.
Disenfranchised Harris County voters argue that’s not enough.
Texas courts will decide.