Tensions were high at Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday as the court voted on a new precinct map that left some commissioners accusing others of gerrymandering and behind the scenes negotiations.
The county has to redraw its political map every ten years to make sure the four commissioners’ precincts are of more-or-less equal size population-wise. The challenge is to do that while maintaining minority representation in accordance with the Voting Rights Act. The process is further complicated by political concerns. No elected official wants to approve a map that robs them of political allies or increases the population of people affiliated with rival political parties.
As far as minority representation is concerned, Travis County's new map will increase the African-American population in Commissioner Ron Davis’ Precinct One, a traditionally black precinct, and maintain the Hispanic voter presence in Margaret Gomez’ traditionally Latino Precinct Four.
Where the new map fell short, in some commissioners estimation, was in population distribution. Commissioner Karen Huber, the only one to vote against the changes, criticized Davis and Gomez for negotiating changes for their own benefit without consulting her.
Gomez defended the map, saying that if she and Davis had consulted Huber, their discussions would have comprised a quorum of commissioners and been in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
In one particularly tense exchange, Huber accused Davis and Gomez of gerrymandering, because of the way their proposed map split voting Precinct 437 along Barton Springs Road.
"It is gerrymandering to create a land bridge so that you can take the precinct north of the river," Huber said.
"That's not gerrymandering. I mean, I don't call it gerrymandering. Are we going to call it gerrymandering?" replied Commissioner Gomez.
"I prefer not to," responded County Judge Sam Biscoe. "Let's call it good government move!"
You can click the image above for a larger version of the map or click here and go to map GE 170. The Commissioners Court does plan to revisit the new map again next week and could possibly make final corrections or "clarifications" to it at that time.