Texas looks to add congressional seats after 2020 Census

Published 5:14 pm Monday, January 25, 2021

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Texas could gain three seats in Congress after adding more than 4 million people over the last 10 years, according to testimony offered before the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting Monday.  Delays in federal data collection and reporting and the COVID-19 pandemic will complicate and delay the process of drawing new congressional and state legislative districts. Estimates offered by state demographer Dr. Lloyd Potter indicate a larger, more diverse state population than in 2010.

Typically conducted across the state during the interim, regional hearings were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns and will be held in Austin with all witnesses appearing virtually.  Committee Chair Joan Huffman assured Texans this would allow their voices to be heard.  “Though the pandemic prevented us from travelling the state to hold in-person regional hearings, we still intend to hear from Texans in all parts of the state about your local communities and what you believe we should take into consideration during redistricting,” she said.  Huffman said this is the first time a legislative committee has been conducted in this manner, and she thanked her colleagues for unanimous support of rules changes facilitating remote redistricting hearings.

COVID-19 greatly complicated the census effort this year, limiting contact efforts and introducing significant reporting delays.  Raw state population counts, which determine representation in Congress, will not be distributed by Washington before March.  There is no timeline for the delivery of more granular data used to draw lines for statehouse and congressional districts, but Potter said it likely will not be before the summer and may not arrive prior to the fall.

Despite the pandemic, Potter said that the Census Bureau reports counting 99 percent of households in Texas.  A lower percentage than normal – only 62 percent – were self-reported, with a member of the household answering data either through survey or through contact with a census worker, down 2.5 percent from 2010.   The rest were counted via the non-response follow-up procedure, where neighbors, landlords or other knowledgeable individuals try and estimate the number, age, and ethnicity of the non-response households.  This method, said Potter, is significantly less accurate than self-response surveys.   Of the state’s 254 counties, only 29 counties beat their self-response rate from 2010.  “I expect we’re going to see some inaccuracies, more so than what we saw in 2010,” said Potter.

This lack of accuracy can have big implications for representation and government funding, said Potter, and the counties with the highest non-response follow up rate tend to be more diverse than counties with very high response rates.  Seventy-seven percent of the bottom reporting quintile has a higher percentage of an ethnic minority population than the state average, putting those regions at a greater risk of undercount.  If a region is undercounted, that could mean less state funding and reduced representation in government.

While they wait on official census data, the Committee on Redistricting will continue to hold hearings focusing on regions and metro areas, and Huffman encouraged anyone in the state interested in participating to sign up to speak to the committee via videoconference.  “My goal is to ensure these regional hearings are as safe, accessible and productive as possible,” said Huffman.  Citizens can sign up to speak about any region at any meeting, even if that region is outside the focus of that specific meeting.  Those wishing to participate in the process can register for future meetings online at https://redistricting.capitol.texas.gov/2020s, by clicking the desired hearing notice to find registration instructions for a particular hearing.

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, January 26 at 3 p.m.