Redistricting in Denton County

Early voting lines at the Denton Civic Center in November.

Turns out, Denton County officials are using more than just population data to justify the Republican-held Commissioners Court’s push to redraw the lines of their precincts.

Voter registration numbers are also in the mix, and that just doesn’t smell right to the nearly dozen or so people who have showed up to confront County Judge Andy Eads and the four commissioners about it.

“It does appear self-serving to us in the community,” attorney Prudence Sanchez said during a public-comment period during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting.

Since March, public discussion about the plan — which would redistrict the four county commissioner precincts before the decennial census in 2020 — has centered on Denton County’s rapidly growing population and the population alone, based on data from four sources analyzed by the county.

When Democrats got wind of it, they started showing up in court. And in emails and phone calls, they began asking county officials to cough up what exactly was being used to justify the need to redistrict. Toward the end of May, Democrats including Amy Taylor and Will Fisher discovered via email that, in fact, voter registration data from each of the precincts was also being used to make the justification.

Democrats, as well as groups including the local League of United Latin American Citizens, say voter registration data creates a bias in the projection that works against people who are less likely to vote.

“I really believe that if this thing is not done properly, it will intensify whatever anxiety minority groups have [about voting],” Denton LULAC board member Rudy Rodriquez said.

It’s a problematic time for Texas voting. The state just lived through an episode this year wherein thousands of people were “flagged” as non-citizens and targeted for voter purges.

“Texas is like the place where the Republican Party goes to test all their partisan rigging of electoral systems,” Fisher said in a recent interview.

Anthony Gutierrez, who tracks redistricting, among other electoral activities, for the nonpartisan nonprofit Common Cause, said it’s not unheard of for a county to use voter data to justify redistricting.

“I wouldn’t say it’s wrong for them to use this data,” he said. “But it does raise some red flags.”

After reviewing an email in which the county explained its methodology, Gutierrez said further: “For me it comes to the questions of whether there [was] a determination made to redraw commissioner precincts first and then the demographic data was gathered later, or vice versa. If it’s the former, that would suggest this redistricting was triggered by political rather than demographic reasons.”

As one retired schoolteacher pointed out Tuesday, Denton County’s population growth didn’t just suddenly become an issue in the spring of 2019.

But something happened in the fall of 2018.

Democrats in the November election started breathing down the necks of Denton County officials elected as Republicans. In areas of the county where the population is growing the quickest, Democrats made the greatest gains during the election.

Commissioner Ron Marchant nearly lost his seat in the increasingly blue Carrollton area inside Precinct 2. That race came within 400 votes.

“They should not be redrawing lines because they sense that one seat might be flipping from one party to the other,” Gutierrez said.

Eads, speaking over the phone Monday, assured the public that’s not what’s going on.

“People will criticize any action that we take,” Eads said. “This is not a matter of precincts. It’s not a matter of red or blue. It’s a matter of numbers. It’s really a numbers issue that we’re trying to address in a thoughtful manner.”

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.

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