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Baylor professors a powerful pair in Texas redistricting

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by Mark Wiggins

WACO - When federal census data is collected every ten years, it kicks off a complicated and lengthy process of reapportioning representatives and redrawing voting districts based on the changes in population and demographics.

It's an elaborate undertaking that require's a skilled hand, and across the state those hands belong to Baylor Law School professors David Guinn and Mike Morrison.

The process defines how every official in Texas is elected, and for a few months every decade, it makes Guinn and Morrison the most powerful men in the state.

In the contact sport of congressional redistricting, Guinn and Morrison are the referees trying their best to keep it clean.

"I think as my partner said not too long ago, we're not quite sure whether the lord or the devil has found us in regard to this undertaking," says Guinn.

With 36 U.S. Congressmen, 150 house chairs, 31 state senators and the Board of Education, it's a monumental task.

In a game where winner-takes-all, everyone wants a piece.

"One of the justices recently said that redistricting is where the elected officials choose their voters," says Guinn.  "Well, that's politics."

It's keeping politics in check that has made the duo indispensable.

Representing cities, school districts and every county in Central Texas, even the Texas Senate Redistricting Committee has sought their experience to make sure redistricting plans can pass voting rights standards and gain approval from the Department of Justice.

In 32 years, not one plan has been denied approval.  That kind of record puts their services in high demand, which can be lucrative.

The City of Waco authorized up to $40,000 to retain Guinn and Morrison's services for redistricting purposes.  City Manager Larry Holze says the city could end up paying less, and because Guinn and Morrison represent such a large area, the team is able to provide a better perspective at nearly half the rate of competing firms.

In McLennan County, Judge Jim Lewis says its their experience and knowledge of the community that has the county drawing upon their service once again.

"This will be the third time they've done it in 30 years, and they're very good," says Lewis, "And the main thing is they don't get you in trouble."

Trouble can be costly.  In 2009, the City of Irving settled a lawsuit over voting rights that cost the city $200,000 in legal fees.

The key is making sure each district has roughly equal population, and the voting strength of no minority is diluted. 

To do that, the pair enlist the help of Citizens Advisory Committees.  The committees are drafted from within each county, and consist of ten to twelve residents tasked with making sure each precinct is represented adequately.

"These are men and women that really act in good faith, and they really try to do what the law requires," says Guinn.

Work can't get started until the official census data comes down.  Numbers are released to states on a priority basis, and because Texas added four new Congressman in the latest census, the Lone Star State is on the fast track.  Work is expected to get started as early as February.

The work takes about a year, and in a state expected to add 16 million new citizens by 2030, the job only gets tougher each time around.

Guinn and Morrison will take it one decade at a time.

"We laugh about that every time," says Guinn, "And say if we ever live through this, we will never do it again."

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