Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office was urged by a panel of judges to keep trying to broker a compromise with Latino activists that would let the court create interim election maps and allow Texas to conduct primary elections without further delays.
The only chance Texas has to salvage its current April 3 primary date, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said at a hearing yesterday in San Antonio is for “all the parties to get together in a room and resolve this. Short of that, it is not likely we are going to have an April primary.”
Texas Deputy Attorney General David Mattax told Garcia, “I’m going to work as hard as I can to settle whatever I can.”
Garcia asked the parties to submit their proposed compromises to the court by Feb. 6 for its use in creating interim maps. The deals won’t be binding on the court or constitute formal settlements of claims that the Republican- controlled legislature’s redistricting plan discriminates against Latino voters.
Mattax said he’s opened negotiations with all the principal voting-rights groups opposed to the state’s maps to discuss temporary solutions for the “handful” of U.S. congressional and state legislative districts he said are truly disputed as potentially discriminatory.
“I’m trying to do something where the state doesn’t concede but doesn’t object” to temporary boundary changes opponents want for election maps the Republican-controlled legislature created last year, Mattax said. “We need to get a map out so we can have some primaries.”
The San Antonio judges had ordered all parties involved in the state’s redistricting dispute to court yesterday to discuss splitting the primaries onto different dates and whether the state could repay counties for the cost of holding multiple primaries. The session was the latest round of a six-month redistricting fight that has already reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hispanic voting rights groups and lawmakers whose jobs were threatened by the state’s new voter maps sued Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, in federal court in San Antonio after he approved the legislature’s work last July. Critics claim the new boundaries were designed to prevent the election of Latinos. State lawmakers contend they didn’t discriminate and were legally allowed to draw districts that favored the election of Republicans.
The San Antonio court is considering splitting Texas’s primaries, holding the presidential primary April 3 and all other state and local primaries later, Garcia said. When Mattax told Garcia the legislature probably wouldn’t use emergency funds to reimburse cash-strapped counties for the cost of multiple elections, Garcia replied that could be a deciding factor for the court.
Several county election officials testified they couldn’t afford to pay for multiple primary elections and needed seven weeks to 150 days to prepare for elections. The most time- consuming element is complying with federal laws requiring that printed ballots be mailed to overseas military personnel, Jacque Callanen, a Bexar County election official testified. She said Texas has more military ballots to process than some states do regular ballots.
Texas was required to create new voter boundaries after gaining four congressional seats to accommodate almost 4.3 million new residents since 2000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. About 65 percent of the state’s population growth came from Hispanics, who have historically voted more often for Democrats than Republicans.
After the activists sued Perry in San Antonio, Texas sued the U.S. Justice Department in Washington seeking so-called pre- clearance of its maps. Pre-clearance is required of all states with a history of voting rights violations. Texas can’t implement its new election boundaries without this approval from either a Washington federal court or the Justice Department.
To avoid election delays while it considers pre-clearance, the Washington court asked the three-judge San Antonio panel last year to draw temporary voter maps for the election cycle. The Texas panel released interim boundaries in November after taking testimony in a two-week trial. The court also postponed the state’s primary elections from March 6 to April 3 to allow candidates time to assess the boundary lines.
Texas appealed the San Antonio judges’ maps to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court rejected the court-created maps as not deferential enough to the legislature’s maps. The justices ordered the San Antonio judges to try again, using the lawmakers’ maps as a starting point.
The Washington court hasn’t ruled on pre-clearance. That court is scheduled to conclude a two-week trial next week, and the San Antonio judges asked the Washington judges to expedite their ruling to guide the Texas panel’s redistricting efforts.
After yesterday’s hearing, Luis Roberto Vera Jr., national general counsel for the League of Latin American Citizens, said he wasn’t optimistic about the state’s ability to broker a compromise, especially on the Congressional district map.
“Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott started making the calls himself last night,” Vera said in an interview outside the courthouse. “But they’re trying to get the plaintiffs to fight amongst each other. I believe Texas will have a unified primary on May 29.”
The Texas case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio). The Washington case is Texas v. U.S., 1:11-cv-1303, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The appellate case is Perry v. Perez, 11A536 (Congressional map); U.S. Supreme Court.
--Editors: Peter Blumberg, Michael Hytha
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