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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Crossing lines over voter representation

Photo by Photo by Nathan Varnell

The Brazos County redistricting process has begun.

The county is fast-approaching a deadline to represent all voters, but not without disagreement.

The illustrative plan for Brazos County’s decennial redistricting was deliberated by the County Commissioners Court in an Oct. 28 workshop session, following a hearing for public comments the day before. Predominantly under review were the equitable divisions of certain areas, such as neighborhoods along FM-2818, to comply with the “one-person, one-vote” of precinct redistricting. But a seemingly minor suggestion in the process sparked a clash between two commissioners over potential gerrymandering.

Brazos County has seen a population growth of 17.6 percent since 2010 to a total 233,849, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s QuickFacts website. This rapid increase has left the four County Commissioner Precincts with “insufficiently equal” populations, according to the Brazos County District Information website.

“At the last court session, you started from one of our draft plans and came up with the plan that’s on the screen now, Illustrative Plan 1. That’s the plan we put out for public comments,” Sidney Falk Jr. said, referring to the digital geographic information systems map presented to the court. 

Falk represents Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, the Austin-based law firm contracted to oversee the process of balancing the precincts. Per U.S. Supreme Court case White v. Regester, the combined deviation of the most populous district and the least populous district from the “ideal district population” may not exceed 10 percent, and all the other district populations must fall within that narrow range, according to the Texas Legislative Council’s “Guide to 2021 Redistricting.”

“We’re here today to look at that plan and consider any changes you want to make to it, hopefully agreeing on a plan that you will be ready to adopt at your next meeting,” Falk said.

Taking into consideration public comments, commissioners such as Steve Aldrich, for Precinct 1, directed Bickerstaff to draw boundaries more easily communicated to the public while still following the law. One such change was moving Precinct 1 to the south of FM-2818, while dividing the Southwood area north of the highway between precincts 3 and 4.

“Most of those that spoke [at the public hearing] were speaking to us being fair and equitable and within the law, and I think you’ve done that with every drawing that you’ve shown,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Irma Cauley said, addressing Falk.

However, a request from Precinct 2 Commissioner Russ Ford to move several low-population census blocks “just east of Highway 30” drew fire.

“I don’t want that,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Nancy Berry said. “Highway 30 makes the most sense, adding that area does not. It would also eliminate a political challenger to Commissioner Ford, which I think is wrong.”

In Brazos County precincts, a challenger can move their residency to another precinct that they wish to run in, Ford said in reply.

“You could rent property in that precinct and still be fully within the law,” Ford said. “We can’t totally disregard the comments yesterday just because it might put one person in a different precinct — they can move.”

If his request had been incorporated into the illustrative plan, the challenger in question would no longer be in Precinct 2, Ford’s jurisdiction, but Precinct 3, Berry’s jurisdiction that largely covers Bryan, not College Station.

“Anybody can move, that’s not the point,” Berry said. “The point is this is a particular gerrymander that would eliminate a competitor, and that’s wrong.”

Ford said the request was in order to address comments from the public hearing, during which one resident living in the contested area, Ray Schultz, said the relevant election precinct should be split into two. County Judge Duane Peters said he disagreed with Ford.

“That is an [extraterritorial jurisdiction] of College Station, the city of Bryan is on the other side of a major highway,” Peters said. “But highway 30 really is the logical place for that line to be. It’s a fine line where everybody who drives out there will know that Precinct 3 is on one side, Precinct 2 is on the other side.”

Following assenting advice from General Counsel Bruce Erratt, the Court voted 4-1 in a motion to not incorporate Ford’s request.

The modified map, dubbed Illustrative Plan 2 by Bickerstaff attorney Joshua Katz, was moved to be on the agenda of the Nov. 2 session for adoption. The final deviation rate of the plan was 6.9 percent, Katz said, well within the legal requirement of 10 percent.

The Nov. 2 meeting will be held at 10 a.m. in the County Commissioners Court, at 200 S Texas Ave., Suite 106 in Bryan.

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