Breaking News

Texas asks split primaries

The state of Texas on Monday afternoon asked a federal District Court in San Antonio to put off some, but not all, deadlines for the coming elections in the state, saying that no “usable election districts” for state or federal legislative seats now exist in the wake of the Supreme Court’s blocking of court-ordered maps for the state house, the state senate, and Texas’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The motion for a stay would mean that Texas voters could face the possibility of casting ballots in two primaries — one for state and federal legislative seats, and one for the presidency and for state offices other than the state legislature.

The plea did not say explicitly that the state was seeking to split the primary balloting dates, but that was the effect since it called only for staying “all deadlines and requirements for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, and Texas’s congressional districts.”   The motion said that such a postponement was “the only appropriate response” to the Supreme Court’s order on Friday agreeing to review the San Antonio court’s “interim” redistricting maps and staying those maps in the meantime.  Asking for a delay until further court order, the motion said that “candidates cannot file for office, and election officials cannot proceed with their duties, unless usable election districts are in place.”

Once the Supreme Court has ruled, the state’s lawyers said, “and once usable electoral districts are in place, candidate filing and election administration can immediately resume.”  Candidates have been filing for legislative seats since November 28.  Under the current schedule, that filing period was to run through this Thursday.   Reports from Texas yesterday said that some election officials had stopped accepting candidates’ filing papers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s order taking on three cases involving the redistricting feud in the Lone Star State.

On Sunday, some of the minority groups challenging the districting maps drawn this year by the Texas legislature told the San Antoni0 court that they opposed the idea of having two separate primary dates.  Their groups’ lawyers said they had been told that the state would seek a two-primary approach, and they argued that the arrangement “will lead to voter fatigue” and would be “overly burdensome for the taxpayers.”  Moreover, they argued, there is no money available to pay for two primaries.  The primary election is currently set for March 6 for all offices up for election, state and federal.  The state and county governments, the groups said, had set their budgets to comply only with the requirement of one primary.   “We are talking about millions of dollars” in extra cost if two primaries are called, the groups argued.

Meanwhile, in a separate U.S. District Court in Washington, a trial date was set for January 17 on whether that court will allow Texas to use any of the election maps drawn up by the legislature, or whether some or all of those maps violate Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act.   That section requires a group of states that formerly discriminated in voting practices on the basis of race to get legal clearance in Washington before they may put into effect any election change, including any redistricting plans.   Section 5 forbids clearance of any election change in such a state if it would deny or dilute the prior voting strength of minorities.   (UPDATE:  The Court’s scheduling order is copied here.)

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Texas asks split primaries, SCOTUSblog (Dec. 12, 2011, 8:54 PM),