Wednesday, January 11, 2012

SCOTUS And The Texas Redistricting Dispute

In a rare afternoon session on Monday, only a month after accepting the case, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard a Texas redistricting dispute that is complicated in every way except its bottom line: four new congressional seats that have the potential to decide which party controls the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court justices signaled, through their questions to the lawyers arguing the case for each side, that it is unlikely the court will simply allow elections for this cycle to go forward using the state's maps drawn by the legislature last summer, or the interim maps drawn by the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio.

It is widely thought that the Justices will vacate the San Antonio court's decision on the interim maps and instead allow the D.C. circuit court three judge panel to answer with finality the Section 5 Voting Rights Act questions on the state's maps drawn by the legislature. All side are impatiently waiting the Supreme Court's decision.

The D.C. circuit court trial starts Jan 17 and will run through the first week of February. This would at least mean another postponement for Texas' primary election, and probably means a bifurcated primary.

In an email to party members this morning, Texas Republican Party Chair Steve Munisteri said that a split primary is looking more likely. Munisteri explained that the state conventions planned by the Texas Democratic and Republican parties are set for June and can't be rescheduled.
"There has to be a primary for at least some races by early April, in order to have the two parties' state conventions," Munisteri wrote. "Cancelling the state conventions is not an option for several reasons. First, the already incurred contractual obligations of the parties would jeopardize the financial health of both parties. Second, it is important that the State of Texas be able to pick delegates to the Republican National Convention so that we can have an impact on the Presidential race....Third, the Texas Election Code requires that we have a state convention. And fourth, we need to have elections for party officers, including State Chairman, Vice-Chairman, National Committeeman and Committeewoman, and the members of the State Republican Executive Committee."

Even if the primary is only delayed until May, instead of June, Munisteri explained that that still would not allow enough time for the Texas Republican Party to properly plan for its June state convention. With few options left, hosting two Texas primaries may end up the only viable solution remaining.

Another change to the primary election schedule will give Texas election officials a genuine headache and Texas tax payers a pain in the wallet. As reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Holding two primaries would likely double the costs to Texas taxpayers, election officials have said. The Texas secretary of state's office reimburses Republican and Democratic parties around the state for much of the expenses related to hosting the primaries. In 2010, the state paid party organizations $13.9 million for primary elections and runoffs, state records show.

Locally, the final election schedule is likely to create logistical and financial issues for the Tarrant County Elections Office. Elections Administrator Steve Raborn has said hosting two primaries could end up costing Tarrant County more than $700,000.

Delaying the primaries until June could also pose problems. Raborn noted that many schools that serve as polling places are likely to be closed or undergoing construction or maintenance over the summer.

Other concerns include finding enough election workers over the summer and potential overlap from the local city and school district elections scheduled for May. Runoffs for those elections are currently scheduled for June.

Either way Texas voters and taxpayers look to lose. All because Texas Republicans couldn't draw fair maps that took into account the state's rich diversity.

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