Ever since their introduction in September 2021, Texas’ new redistricting maps have courted controversy at nearly every step of the policymaking process. Beginning with Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for a third special legislative session to address redistricting, Texas Republicans’ proposed maps faced legal challenges even before their official passage. After their state legislative approval, Texas’ maps have garnered national attention, with the U.S. Department of Justice seeking to strike down the new maps

Given the controversy and complexity of the redistricting process, San Antonian voters understandably may wonder: what does redistricting mean for the upcoming 2022 elections? 

First and foremost, redistricting means uncertainty for San Antonio voters. Indeed, beyond challenging Texas’ maps as discriminatory toward racial minorities, DOJ’s suit also asks that elections under the new maps be prohibited until “new plans that comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act” are devised. Unfortunately for Texan voters, judicial responses to such requests do not follow any universal conventions. Certainly, if the federal judiciary denies DOJ’s claims, Texas’ elections will proceed as normal. However, if a judge finds merit in the lawsuit, it is unclear how elections will proceed as the suit works its way through the appeals process. A judge’s decision could range from simply ordering that elections proceed using Texas’ old maps, to a mandate for new maps entirely — and everything in between. 

Complicating the former of these options, however, is the fact that Texas has gained two new congressional seats. As a result, the federal lawsuit could potentially generate tremendous uncertainty in cities like nearby Austin, where even the most experienced politicians find themselves running in brand new legislative districts. Moreover, even though the creation of new maps could circumvent such issues, both the federal judiciary and the Texas state legislature would need to move quickly if new maps are to be generated. March 1, the date of Texas’ first primary elections, is just around the corner.

Ironically, despite this uncertainty, redistricting’s other primary effect on the 2022 elections will be one of stability — though not of the positive sort. All throughout the state of Texas, the new map dramatically decreases the prevalence of “toss-up” districts, with five more Democratic-leaning districts, two more Republican-leaning districts, and five fewer highly competitive districts than in the previous map. In fact, the new map leaves Texas with just one highly competitive congressional district — despite the addition of two congressional seats and general state-wide trend in the “purple” direction. For their part, state legislative districts are no better: by some estimates, just 1 of 31 State Senate seats and 6 of 140 State House seats will be meaningfully competitive. 

Here in San Antonio, voters will feel the uncompetitive effects of Texas’ new maps acutely. Whereas voters in the San Antonio area lived in or near no fewer than four competitive districts, Bexar County is now home to just one competitive district, Texas’ 15th Congressional District — a long, slender district that reaches hundreds of miles from Far East San Antonio southward to the Rio Grande. For Democrats, Rep. Henry Cuellar’s 28th district will shift from a true toss-up district to one with a notably bluer tint. Similarly, Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-San Antonio) in the 23rd district and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Austin) in the 21st district will benefit from their new district lines, with both districts moving from toss-up or slight Republican-lean status to mostly solid red. 

Rep. Gonzales’s district is particularly striking, given that the 23rd Congressional District has often been touted as the quintessential toss-up district. Formerly represented by Will Hurd, the district — which spans from western San Antonio to eastern El Paso — had previously generated such tight electoral outcomes that legislators have faced incentives to pay special attention to hyper-local issues, such as rural health care and unique mental health services for veterans. As districts grow more heavily partisan, however, focus shifts from the general election to primaries, where ideological purity and partisan loyalty rule the day. 

Taken together, then, redistricting implies a rather paradoxical mix of uncertain-but-static choices in the lead-up to the 2022 elections. On one hand, voters are likely to see many familiar names on their ballots. And given the decrease in the competitiveness of legislative districts in San Antonio, the average San Antonian voter will likely have less say over which of those names will represent them in Washington. On the other hand, legal challenges to Texas’ maps shroud upcoming elections in uncertainty. Whereas provisions in the Voting Rights Act previously required Texas to obtain preclearance for its maps from the federal government, challenges to today’s maps are retroactive in nature. As a result, thousands of voters across the San Antonio area do not know for certain which district they’ll be voting in — and which candidates they’ll be choosing among — come March. Given the striking differences between Republican and Democratic representatives in Congress today, such uncertainties will likely prove both consequential and frustrating for local voters in 2022. 

Jesse Crosson

Jesse Crosson is an assistant professor of political science at Trinity University.