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Cracking, Packing, Apportionment: Here’s A Glossary Of Terms To Help You Understand Redistricting

 The Texas State Capitol Building in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
The Texas State Capitol Building in Austin.

Every ten years, the U.S. Census goes out to each household in America. The results give state, federal and local officials the most accurate look possible at the population and demographic changes that occurred over the last decade.

This round's results probably aren't all that surprising: Texas is booming. The state added 4 million people over the last decade, including massive growth among racial minorities. All that growth means the state gained two new congressional seats.

While the census results came in later than usual this cycle, it's now time for the Texas Legislature to hammer out new voting districts in a process called redistricting. That will be the main task for lawmakers during this special session, which kicked off Monday.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll likely hear the following terms or historical references, so we’re here to clarify what they mean:

Apportionment: The process of measuring the population of a region using census data to allocate a proportionate number of seats.

Census: A federally mandated survey of everyone in the United States population.

Cracking: A term used to describe the diluting of the opposing party’s voting power across multiple districts.

District: An area of the state that has one representative and is divided in proportion to the population of that area.

Gerrymandering: The practice of drawing district lines in such a way that they favor one political party over another.

Majority-minority districts: Districts where the greater number of people in the population of that area are made up of people who are considered minorities.

Packing: A term used to describe when a group of people are fused together into a small number of districts, influencing surrounding districts.

Partisanship: Favoring one party or political cause over another.

The Senate Special Committee on Redistricting: The body of senators appointed by the governor that determines what redistricted maps will look like before they present it to the full Senate and the governor.

Key court cases and events 

Baker v. Carr (1962): The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Tennessee state government needed to allocate seats in their legislature in proportion to their population, setting the precedent for future legislatures and how they apportioned their seats.

Reynolds v. Sims (1964): This case found that the 14th Amendment requires states’ legislative districts be equal in population, under the Equal Protection Clause.

Bush v. Vera (1996): The Supreme Court found that Texas was using race as a predominant factor in redistricting three Hispanic dominant districts, as opposed to political interest.

Evenwel v. Abbott (2016): Popularizing the notion of “one person, one vote,” the U.S. Supreme Court found that the constitution lets states use their total population to draw legislative districts, as opposed to their total-voting population.

We’ll continue to add to this glossary throughout the session, so check back for updates.

Got a tip? Have a suggestion for our redistricting glossary? Email Haya Panjwani at Follow Haya on Twitter @hayapanjw.

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Copyright 2021 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Haya Panjwani
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