BELTON — As the deadline for redistricting in Texas nears, Bell County allowed for the public to comment on its work so far Tuesday during a special meeting.
Commissioners invited a representative from consultant Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP to explain the local effort to residents.
Redistricting efforts are occurring later this year compared to previous decades due to the U.S. Census Bureau putting out the data late. Officials said the data has previously been given to states and counties between February and April.
County Judge David Blackburn said he wanted to host the special workshop to allow for more people to become aware of the process and let Commissioners know what they think.
“Because of the lateness of the release of the data from Census this cycle, and the anticipated work of the Legislature, we have a very condensed timeframe to do whatever redistricting might be necessary or desired,” Blackburn said.
This year county officials partnered with Temple, Temple Independent School District and Killeen to redistrict together.
Gunnar Seaquist, partner with Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, said the county will need to finalize its districts this year by Dec. 13, the deadline for candidates to file for primary races. Primaries in 2022 are set for March 1.
County districts that may need to be redistricted this year include those for the Commissioners Court, Justice of the Peace and constables.
Temple resident Jose Martinez expressed concern during the meeting about the representation of minorities locally.
Martinez said he was concerned about the representation locally due to what he sees on the state level, and the Legislature’s efforts on the subject.
“Much of redistricting is being done to again put more whites in more likely to be elected (positions) than Hispanics and blacks,” Martinez said. “The attitude is that is eventually going to backfire and the demographics are going to change and catch up with them. But, the question is when.”
Seaquist said not having representative districts for minorities locally is not an issue currently for either Hispanics or African Americans.
For Hispanics, Seaquist said, the population in the county is too spread out for them to have their own majority minority district. He also pointed out that while areas of the county do have a more concentrated African-American population, there are just not enough people to have their own district with them as a majority.
With no infringements on federal voting rights laws, the county mainly needs to focus on making sure each district has close to an equal population.
Seaquist said Bell County districts need to be within 10 percent of each other in regards to population. He said the 2020 Census numbers show Commissioner precincts in the county only differ by about 8.34 percent.
The ideal size of a district in the county is about 92,662, achieved when dividing the county’s population of 370,647 into four precincts.
“What that tells us as a legal matter, for the purposes of one person one vote, the county is sufficiently in balance,” Seaquist said. “It does not need to redistrict in order to bring the districts into balance. It could take no action and these districts would be in balance.”
Commissioners plan to continue discussing redistricting, hoping to make a plan on if they want to move forward by Oct. 18 in order to give the firm time to do their work.