Legislative Districts

Members of the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate are represent specific legislative districts corresponding to various regions within our state.

Each of the 150 Texas House districts should contain roughly the same number of voters, and each of the 31 Texas Senate districts should contain roughly the same number of voters.  We ensure that districts have a roughly equal population by engaging in redistricting every ten years, following the U.S. Census.

Article III, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution of 1876 requires our Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate legislative districts to be redrawn during the first regular session following the publication of U.S. census data.  Redistricting is also required by the federal government.  In the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court applied the principle of “one person, one vote” to states by ruling that state legislative districts had to be roughly equal in population.

The Texas Constitution of 1876 set “Senate membership fixed at thirty-one . . . [whereas] The size of the House was permitted to rise to a maximum of 150” (May, n.d.).  Because we have reached the maximum size in both chambers, each member of our Texas House and Texas Senate represents a large (and growing) population.  According to the 2020 Census, Texas’s population is 29,145,505, which means each Texas House district represents approximately 194,000 people, and each Texas Senate district represents approximately 940,000 people.

How Redistricting Works

The "Gerrymander" Political CartoonThe Texas Legislature draws its own districts for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate in addition to the districts for U.S. House of Representatives.  Defining legislative districts is a political process, and state legislatures  employ a variety of techniques to draw district lines in such a way that they benefit or harm a particular group.  This is known as gerrymandering (named after the Gerrymander political cartoon, which depicts an oddly-shaped legislative district).  Gerrymandering generally relies on two tactics: packing and cracking.

Racial gerrymandering, or redistricting to enhance or reduce the chances that a racial or ethnic group will elect members to the legislature, is legal so long as it involves the creation of majority-minority districts designed to enhance a minority racial or ethnic group’s ability to elect members to the legislature (in 2015, Texas had 18 majority-minority state legislative districts); however, diluting the ability of a minority racial or ethnic group from being able to elect members to the legislature violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 (it’s illegal).  Suits challenging adopted redistricting plans on the basis of racial discrimination resulting in diluting the vote of certain racial or ethnic minorities may be brought at any time under the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution of 1876, and the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Partisan gerrymandering, or redistricting to maximize the number of seats a political party can win, is legal . . . and it happens a lot, regardless of what political party is in control of a state’s legislature.

When Legislative Redistricting Initially Fails

If the Texas Legislature fails to redraw its legislative districts when meeting during regular session, either

  • the governor can call a special session for redistricting,
  • the Legislative Redistricting Board can take over the process and redraw the district maps (which occurred when the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate failed to adopt new legislative districts during the 2001 regular session), or
  • a state or federal court can issue court-ordered redistricting plans

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