I’ve got a secret for you, one that some Lone Star State politicians might not want you to know. An important statewide process is getting started ahead of the 2021 legislative session, a process that happens once every 10 years.

It’s called redistricting, or the redrawing of the districts that make up the legislative and congressional maps in Texas, and it matters more than you may know.

Redistricting is simple enough to grasp when you compare it to other things we replace every few years, like, say, an old car. When it just isn’t working like it used to or doesn’t meet your needs anymore, it’s time to think about getting a new model.

Similarly, redistricting should lead to new and improved electoral maps that reflect the growth and demographic changes that Texas communities undergo with time. Every 10 years, after the U.S. census determines how our communities have expanded and contracted, the Texas Legislature gets the task of redrawing fair maps that are inclusive of everyone.

Except it doesn’t always quite work that way, because, unfortunately, redistricting isn’t as easy as going to the dealership and riding out with a shiny, new F-150 two hours later.

The process is often fraught with complications, like lack of transparency and self-interest. Unlike in some other states, where an independent redistricting commission redraws the electoral maps, Texas legislators redraw and approve their own districts. If that seems backward, it should — after all, shouldn’t voters be the ones who select their elected officials, and not the other way around?

To make matters more complicated for the 2021 process, there have been a number of court battles as a result of the state redistricting that happened in 2011. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Texas won’t need future federal oversight, as it has had for decades, to ensure that partisan gerrymandering — the intentional drawing of districts to benefit one party over another — doesn’t occur. All this despite immediate concerns from federal court judges about Texas’ past actions in redrawing its maps illegally.
This means that in 2021, redistricting will be totally in the hands of state legislators with no one to look over their shoulders, with costly litigation seemingly the only fix if things go awry.
The redistricting process has been fairly opaque. Sure, the legislative committees consult with experts and post their committee minutes on the Legislature’s website. But if there isn’t real transparency, the majority of the conversations, decisions and actual work that goes into drawing the districts block by block happen behind closed doors.
That’s where you come in. Your voice is absolutely necessary right now, at the beginning of the process. If Texans wait too long to engage in this essential part of our democracy, our legislators will already be making decisions on how to redraw their districts in closed-off conference rooms.
The potential for community impact is bigger than you may think. With community involvement and pressure from coalitions, voting rights groups and individual voters, there is less of a chance that lawmakers will attempt to draw unfair or illegal maps in order to maintain partisan control.
Now is the time to get your opinion on record and pressure lawmakers to not only draw maps that are fair and inclusive but also to be transparent throughout the process.
The House Redistricting Committee has begun traveling the state, conducting field hearings in Texas cities large and small, to hear from constituents on what matters most to them. The first field hearings recently happened in Central Texas, but you can still email any of the committee members to submit your thoughts or your testimony.
Luckily, there are two San Antonio representatives on the committee, Ina Minjarez and Lyle Larson, who are ready to hear from you. Please email them, and often.
If you decide to join this conversation, the ACLU of Texas will be right there along with you. We have been diligently working to inform Texans on what redistricting is, why it matters, and how to get involved.
Accountability is a central tool in keeping a democracy healthy, but community members have to come together to keep elected officials in line with what we voted them into office to do. Don’t let another 10 years pass, another process be forgotten, and more costly litigation happen before you get involved in how your vote counts in Texas.

This piece originally appeared at the San Antonio Express-News.