Redistricting of the four road and bridge precincts in Liberty County has begun based on the results of the 2020 Census. At the Sept. 28 Liberty County Commissioners Court meeting, commissioners and County Judge Jay Knight heard from Catherine Than with Austin-based Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, which is helping the County navigate the difficult redistricting process.
With major shifts in population centers in the county – most notably in the Cleveland area – new precinct lines will have to be established to even out the precincts to roughly 21,749 residents each. The precincts, as they are currently drawn, show Pct. 1 with 17,207 residents, Pct. 2 with 18,436, Pct. 3 with 30,348 and Pct. 4 with 21,003.
A closer look at the racial components shows that of the residents living in the precincts, the Hispanic population is 21.32 percent in Pct. 1, 10.63 percent in Pct. 2, 56.09 percent in Pct. 3 and 32.32 percent in Pct. 4. For the non-Hispanic white populations, the percentages are 58.53 in Pct. 1, 82.73 in Pct. 2, 35.04 in Pct. 3 and 56.76 in Pct. 4. The largest black population in a precinct is 14.80 percent in Pct. 1. Asian populations are less than 1 percent for each precinct.
In redistricting the county, Than explained that commissioners will have to avoid creating boundaries that puts a minority group in a worse situation than in the past, calling it “cracking or fracturing.” In cracking or fracturing, minority voters are divided to fragment their voting power.
The new boundary lines, while still being determined, are likely to come as a bit of a surprise to longtime residents of Liberty County who have grown accustomed to being in a particular precinct. Growth in the Plum Grove/Colony Ridge area means that the boundary lines of Pct. 3 have to shrink in order to lose 8,000 voters. Pct. 1 and Pct. 2 have to increase by roughly 4,000 and 3,000 voters, respectively. However, nothing is a certainty until all four commissioners have settled on their boundary lines.
“It will all have to be worked out by the commissioners. I am not breaking a tie vote on this,” said County Judge Jay Knight. “Everything is based on population. The numbers are there. However they decide to move the lines will be to balance the precincts. It might mean moving a line to one road or a creek or highway. The main gist of this is equal representation for all residents.”
There is still a considerable amount of work ahead for the law firm and the County. Commissioners on Sept. 28 appointed Klint Bush, elections administrator, to work through the process with the County’s law firm. At the same meeting, they adopted the plan criteria and guidelines.
The remaining steps include developing illustrative plans, holding public hearings for comments, analyzing those comments, adopting a final plan, implementing the plan and the reconfiguring the election precincts.
Redistricting usually moves at a slower pace. However, the COVID-19 pandemic delays the release of the 2020 Census, which has compressed the timeline.
“Normally we would have months to do redistricting,” said Bush.
Bush noted that there is a learning curve to the process as neither he nor any of the commissioners have ever been a part of redistricting. The last redistricting was in 2010 before any of the current commissioners and county judge were elected to their positions.
On Tuesday, Oct. 12, commissioners will hold a workshop and begin adjusting a real-time map to come up with the commissioner precincts. Than and other members of the law firm have been gathering data from the elections administration office and commissioner precincts to create a preliminary plan.
“They have been developing a map of what commissioners would like to see. That map will be unveiled next Tuesday and then the commissioners will start working as a team to do what’s best for Liberty County,” Bush said. “There will be massive changes. The precinct map is going to look a lot different.”
According to Bush, the County plans to have its redistricting maps finalized in the next 30 days.