Austin American-Statesman USA TODAY NETWORK
The Williamson County Commissioners Court has redrawn the map for the county’s four precincts after the release of 2020 census numbers.
Some residents said the court redrew the map to favor Republicans and approved it too quickly, but the county judge said that no elected officials were drawn out of their districts and that most of the public supported the map. The county commissioners adopted the map on a 4-1 vote after the first public hearing about it at their meeting Tuesday. The map determines the portions of the county that commissioners, constables and justices of the peace represent. Redistricting is done once every 10 years after census numbers are released. The new maps will be used for elections beginning in January. One of the changes involves extending parts of Precinct 4 west of Interstate 35. The new parts include the Behrens Ranch neighborhood in Round Rock, the town of Weir, the town of Jarrell and areas west of it, and the eastern part of Georgetown.
“In the past decade, Williamson County’s growth has been predominately focused on the west side of the county,” Commissioner Valerie Covey said in a news release. “Both precincts 2 and 3 were over the population target while precincts 1 and 4 needed more residents to make the precincts as even as possible.”
Precinct 4 is currently all in eastern Williamson County, including the towns of Hutto and Taylor and a portion of Round Rock. The changes to Precinct 4 will dilute the votes of minority communities, said Taylor resident Jose Orta, speaking on behalf of the League of United American Latin Citizens District 7.
“Instead of taking the growth of Latinos into account and working with Latino communities, you have intentionally drawn gerrymandering maps that dilute the votes of people of color,” he told the commissioners.
Orta later said the Latino votes were diluted because some of the voting precincts in Round Rock in Precinct 4 that traditionally voted Democratic had been moved to Precinct 1. He also said that Jarrell and Weir, which have been added to Precinct 4, are heavily Republican.
The county’s estimated population is 609,017 and has grown 44% since the 2010 census. The ideal population for each precinct in the proposed map, which is the county’s population split by four, is 152,254.
The number of people in a precinct can’t deviate more than 10% above or below the ideal number, according to state law. The new map has 158,935 people in Precinct 1, 148,465 in Precinct 2, 150,578 in Precinct 3 and 151,039 in Precinct 4, according to county officials.
Precinct 1, which includes parts of Round Rock and Austin, has more people in the new map than other precincts because it is not expected to grow as much since it doesn’t have much vacant land, commissioners said Wednesday. Precinct 2, which still includes Liberty Hill and parts of Leander and Cedar Park in the new map, is the fastest growing precinct. Precinct 3 in the new map still includes Florence, most of Georgetown, part of Leander and part of Cedar Park but has added two municipal utility districts west of Round Rock.
Jan Pelosi, who lives in a part of Austin that is in Williamson County, said the new map splits up cities and neighborhoods in favor of Republicans. “It’s blatantly transparent that maps were redrawn to protect Republican incumbents,” she said. “Precinct lines were redrawn to pack as many Democratic voters into Precinct 1,” Pelosi said after the meeting. “The Republican areas of Precinct 1 were carved out and moved into Precinct 4 and Precinct 2 and 3 to protect those areas.” Pelosi said during the Tuesday meeting that there had been no public hearings until the “work was almost done.” Covey said Tuesday that there was only a short amount of time to work on the map because of delays in the release of census numbers due to the pandemic. The commissioners also had to wait until Oct. 25, when the governor signed the state’s redistricting maps. Those maps were necessary to draw the county’s map. Covey on Wednesday said the county did not find out until Nov. 1 that its deadline to submit new precinct boundaries to the secretary of state is Nov. 13. “This information cut our timeline a week short and limited the amount of time to receive public input,” Covey said in a statement. Steve Armbruster, the chairman of the Republican Party of Williamson County, also defended the new map at the Tuesday meeting. “I see it as doing the best job possible in balancing the population,” he said. “I did a lot of research into redistricting at the state level, and one of the things you are not allowed to do is you are not allowed to look at race.” The new map moves the Fern Bluff and Brushy Creek municipal utility districts near Round Rock from Precinct 1 to Precinct 3 but also adds much more of Round Rock to Precinct 1.
Commissioner Terry Cook, the only Democrat on the Commissioners Court, objected to those changes Tuesday, saying she paid more attention to the MUD boards than Covey, the Precinct 3 commissioner, would. Covey said she is very involved in her precinct and has already reached out to members of the Brushy Creek MUD board. “They are not going to see any less level of attention because that is my job,” Covey said.
County Judge Bill Gravell said he was not seeing public outrage over the new map. The public was invited to comment on the proposed map on the county website, and 102 people supported it, Gravell said. Twenty-four people opposed it, and 13 people had questions, he said.
“Not one elected official was drawn out of their precinct,” he said. “If this county wanted to be nefarious and gerrymander, every person could have been drawn out. … I think it’s pretty dadgum fair with the timeline we had.”