The Austin Chronicle

Judges to State: Fix Your Maps Now

By Richard Whittaker, January 29, 2012, 9:55am, Newsdesk

Agree on maps, or move your calendar again. That's the current conundrum facing everyone interested in Texas' primary season In a two-page opinion, a federal judicial panel has made it brutally clear to all parties: "If we have no agreed set of maps by February 6, 2012, there will be no April 3 primary."

The three-judge panel in San Antonio gave this order after a lengthy hearing on Friday. The lack of maps this late in the game means that the parties have already had to shift the Texas primaries, and without agreed maps will have to do so again.

So what happens now? The parties have to come up with a consensus map, they have to come back to the court and state their specific objections to each district, citing how it violates Article Two of the Voting Rights Act (voter discrimination) or the equal protection terms of the Fourteenth Amendment. This court will not be dealing with the VRA Article Five preclearance issues, which are still being hammered out in other courts.

While candidates may not want to give ground on the maps, the new deadline adds volume to the voices – including election officials and party organizers – that are terrified of shifting or splitting the primary. Counties need time to print and distribute ballots (the Department of Justice has already warned them that they cannot avoid strict compliance with MOVE, the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act) and the parties need to hold their county and state conventions (which are booked and paid for.)

In a sign of the need for speed, Assistant Attorney General David Mattax told the court that the state would be unlikely to challenge an imperfect map, on the understanding that it was only an interim map. Cue consternation from Judge Xavier Rodriguez: After all, if the state wasn't that bothered about perfect maps and was expecting to redraw them again in 2013, then why had they appealed them to the US Supreme Court in the first place?

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