Attorneys hired to assist Bexar County with its redistricting efforts presented commissioners with three different maps on Tuesday.
Attorneys Rolando L. Rios and Jose Garza already knew that Precinct 3 would have to shed population and Precinct 2 would have to add residents in order to reach a balance across Bexar County, which, according to the 2020 census, now has 2,009,324 residents. That translates to a 17% growth in population since 2010.
All of the maps commissioners saw Tuesday were drawn based on feedback the attorneys heard from the commissioners themselves, Garza explained. But commissioners are still free to suggest changes and move lines around as they please, so long as they fit within legal requirements.
“They are not set in stone,” he said. “They are here to show you what is possible to achieve a constitutional plan.”
Commissioners plan to meet again on Nov. 9 to approve a redistricting plan. That is the last possible day they can do so and allow the Bexar County Elections Department to prepare for the March 2022 primary candidate filing period to open on Nov. 15, Garza said.
Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) questioned the need for immediate action, as the only county commissioner offices up for election next year are county judge and Precincts 2 and 4.
Calvert’s precinct does not need to add or shed population to stay within constitutionally appropriate guidelines, and he said he was troubled by a possible undercount from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 survey, which was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and ultimately delayed. People of color are historically undercounted in the census.
Despite the fact that Precinct 2 can keep its current boundaries, “I am concerned still about this accurate count because of the Hispanic population in Precinct 2 and at large in the county,” he said. “I just wanted to say for the record, I felt that the count was under what it should have been.”
No other commissioners sought to delay a decision.
Garza acknowledged that commissioners could choose how and when to move forward, but he recommended not waiting for a potential change in the census data.
“This is in your court,” he said. “We are here to receive your suggestions and comments; you can draw your own plan using the data. Our services are available for you for that … we just felt we needed to get something to you to show the public there are possibilities.”
While there could be litigation challenging the census count, that would be an uphill battle, Rios said. He added that if commissioners want to adjust precinct boundaries later after a future lawsuit proves successful, they still can. But right now, the county precincts are unconstitutional and the official 2020 census data is the most accurate data they can use.
“The dynamics between elected officials and voters is ongoing and everyday,” Rios said. “Once the census is official … the representation is going on now. And if there is malapportionment, the violation occurs.”
There are two requirements that the precincts must meet, Garza said. First, precincts must be relatively equal in population, though there is room for as much as 10% deviation between the smallest and largest precincts. And second, the county cannot dilute minority voting strength with redrawn boundaries.
In the three options Rios and Garza presented commissioners Tuesday, all took population from Precinct 3 and added population to Precinct 2.
Plan A only transfers population from Precinct 3 to Precinct 2, leaving the other two precincts untouched. That option puts the deviation between the largest precinct and smallest precinct at 5.79%.
Plan B transfers population from Precinct 3 to Precinct 2 and Precinct 4 and would make Precinct 3 the smallest of the four districts. Precinct 1 remains untouched. That option puts the deviation between the largest precinct and smallest precinct at 4.66%.
And Plan C transfers population from Precinct 3 to Precinct 2, but more so than in Plan A. Precinct 1 and 4 remain untouched. That option puts the deviation between the largest precinct and smallest precinct at 5.34%.
Though no members of the public attended the commissioners meeting on Tuesday to comment, releasing the map options allows people to review them and give feedback in other ways, Garza said.
“What was important is we want to get them out into the public view so the public can see what the county is working with, and if they have input they want to give commissioners they have time to do it,” Garza said. “We have to move things fast to get them done by the 9th of November.”