The Legal Brief: Redistricting Issues After The 2020 Census

In response to updated population data resulting from the 2020 census, Texas cities, school districts, counties, and the Texas Legislature will require redistricting in 2021–that is, drawing new boundaries from which the voters will elect their respective governing bodies. Significant changes to the Voting Rights Act, as well as delays related to COVID-19 mean that redistricting in 2021 will look very different than the last redistricting process in 2011.

Matters Affecting School Districts

Texas law requires school districts to redraw trustee districts at least 90 days before the first election following the census if the census shows that the population of the most populous district exceeds the least populous by more than ten percent.1 Every jurisdiction with single-member districts will need to examine its single member trustee districts when the census is published to determine whether existing districts are balanced in population. It is unlikely that population changes will have occurred uniformly across the electoral districts of a school district during the preceding decades, and the question will be whether the 10% deviation threshold has been reached. School districts that fail to conduct redistricting face potential exposure to suit on the basis of a one person–one vote claim.  Such suits frequently are resolved with a plaintiff or plaintiffs’ group, and not just the board of trustees, participating in drawing new election boundaries.

What Should School Districts Be Doing Now About Redistricting?

On April 13, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau delayed its field operations by about 90 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the same time asked Congress for authority to delay the release of census data by 120 days. If granted, the delay would be the first in at least 100 years and will compress the timeline for redistricting.2

By law, Census results are supposed to be delivered to the President for purposes of congressional reapportionment by December 31, 2020 and are delivered to the states by March 31, 2021. As of this writing, news reports indicate Census results may not be delivered to the President until mid-January or February.3  It is not clear whether the data will be delivered to the states by April. If Congress grants the delay, the Census Bureau would not deliver the results of the census to the President until April 30, 2021 and would not deliver the results to the states until July 31, 2021.The state requirement for redistricting to be completed at least 90 days prior to the next scheduled election means that the timeline for completing redistricting prior to the next November elections would either be compressed, or potentially a legislative solution might allow school districts to implement election changes starting in 2022. In order to prepare for any outcome, it is recommended school districts engage professionals to assist with any needed redistricting so that it may be completed in a timely manner.

Other actions that should be taken prior to next spring include:

  • Locate the documentation from the 2011 redistricting cycle, including preclearance submissions and any shapefiles from the district’s demographer; these vector data records will help the district’s consultants quickly and accurately enter current district boundaries in their GIS software and avoid the unnecessary cost of recreating this information.
  • Locate any existing court orders, settlement agreements or similar legal documents that may impact current school district boundaries.  Your counsel will need to evaluate how these legal documents will impact the redistricting process in 2021.
  • Locate election return data from the past ten years, including all candidates and vote tallies for all trustee elections.
  • Locate any changes to school district boundaries; for example, have there been any consolidations, detachments or annexations that have impacted the district’s boundaries in the past ten years?
  • Begin the process of identifying experienced legal counsel to assist the district in connection with the 2021 redistricting season.

1Tex. Educ. Code §11.052(i).
22020 Census Delays and the Impact on Redistricting (
3Census officials discovered data issues that could delay its completion, internal documents show (
42020 Census Delays and the Impact on Redistricting (


Article written by Hans Graff and Sara Leon.