County approves new precinct boundaries

PRESIDIO COUNTY — Presidio County commissioners Buddy Knight, Jose Cabezuela and Brenda Bentley voted Monday to approve slight changes to boundaries that will shift a few county residents’ representation in commissioners court. Commissioner Eloy Aranda and Judge Cinderela Guevara were absent from the proceedings. The changes follow the late release of the 2020 Federal Census count, which reported an overall population decline in Presidio County. 

All Texas counties are split up by population into four commissioner precincts that must be roughly equal in population, so their lines shift with each new federal census count. The commissioners court votes on county-level matters like taxes and roads. Those boundaries also affect electoral precincts, which are smaller than commissioner precincts and determine where individual voters can vote. 

According to the new census, the largest underrepresentation in Presidio County is in Precinct 3, represented by Commissioner Eloy Aranda. The commissioners’ challenge was to shift constituents in Knight’s overrepresented Precinct 4, but there wasn’t a straightforward way to do that because the two precincts overlap in the rugged and remote Sierra Vieja range in northwestern Presidio County. They decided to shift some of Knight’s constituents to Precinct 1, represented by Bentley, who could then give up a few of her blocks in northeastern Presidio to precincts 2 and 3. 

 

In Marfa, those living south of Waco Street in central Marfa and west of Edinburgh Street south of Highway 90 will now be considered Precinct 1 residents, represented by Bentley. In Presidio, the new maps split the city a little more cleanly along Erma Avenue, with most blocks to the west in Commissioner Aranda’s Precinct 3 and the east in Precinct 1 or Precinct 2, represented by Commissioner Cabezuela. Presidio residents in the northeast part of town will likely notice the most changes; to achieve cleaner precinct lines, the commissioners chose Louvain Avenue as a convenient boundary where precincts 1, 2 and 3 meet. 

Allison, Bass & Magee — the Austin-based law firm helping the commissioners to draw up the new maps — also drew up recommended updated justice of the peace precincts, but departing Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1 David Beebe and Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2 Juanita Bishop agreed that the current boundaries would be easiest on law enforcement and citizens. Justice of the Peace precincts differ from commissioner and electoral precincts because they aren’t representative and don’t have to abide by the same rules about population distribution, so they can be redistricted as needs change but aren’t legally required to. 

Redistricting at the county level happens every 10 years with the release of the decennial federal census. This year’s census was late, putting a time crunch on the process, but the commissioners were able to draw up and approve the maps — with the required public hearings — over the span of a week. The quick turnaround will ensure that anyone who wishes to file for local office in the March 2022 primaries will be able to do so in the correct precinct. 

The City of Presidio is working with the state demographer to challenge the 2020 Census results, which many officials feel dramatically undercounted the border city’s population. It’s possible that the county could redistrict before the next census if the revised population counts aren’t adequately represented by the new boundaries, but there isn’t extensive legal precedent for that process. For now, the new boundaries will hold. Despite the rush, commissioners Bentley, Knight and Cabezuela agreed that the process was “pretty painless.”