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Basic Requirements

Two primary requirements govern all redistricting decisions in the state. First, districts of a given type (senate, house, congressional, State Board of Education (SBOE)) must have equal or nearly equal populations, and second, districts must be drawn in a manner that neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or language group. These requirements are based in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the Equal Protection Clause), the Fifteenth Amendment (prohibiting voting discrimination based on race), the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, and, for congressional districts, Section 2, Article I, of the U.S. Constitution. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote in 1963, "The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments could mean only one thing—one person, one vote." Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368 (1963).

The first question that must be answered about redistricting is exactly how equal the populations of districts must be. A Texas case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s (White v. Regester, 412 U.S. 755 (1973)) set the basic standard for the maximum acceptable population deviation for state legislative districts. Under that standard, the combined deviation of the most populous district and the least populous district from the ideal district population may not exceed 10 percent, and all the other district populations must fall within that narrow range. "Ideal district population" is the population a district would have if all districts in a plan have equal populations, and it is determined by dividing the total state population by the number of districts in the plan. Exceptions to the 10 percent deviation limitation have been allowed if based on consistent application of rational state policy such as the preservation of whole counties. In some cases, plans with districts within the 10 percent limitation have been held invalid if the population deviations show a pattern of discrimination. The same standard applies to districts for the SBOE. A stricter one-person, one-vote standard applies to congressional redistricting.

The federal constitutional and statutory provisions on redistricting, the differing provisions of the Texas Constitution relating to legislative districts, and numerous federal and state court cases on the issue result in somewhat different requirements for different types of districts. The following sections briefly describe redistricting requirements specific to each type of district for which the Texas Legislature is primarily responsible.

The Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan legislative service agency, provides technical and legal support to the Texas legislature for redistricting.