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Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Texas’s primary elections will probably be delayed until May while a three-judge panel struggles to redraw voter maps created by state Republican lawmakers and challenged by minorities as racial gerrymanders.
U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, at the end of a two-day hearing in federal court in San Antonio yesterday, said a primary as late as May 29 was a possibility. He then asked the state party leaders to submit information on timelines and schedules needed for political conventions so the judges could make a decision on the date, currently scheduled for April 3.
Luis Vera, a lawyer representing the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, said after the hearing that he interpreted Smith’s comments to mean that the primaries would be scheduled for May 29.
Smith and two other federal judges are creating temporary voter districts that can be used in the state’s 2012 elections while legal challenges continue.
The six-month redistricting fight has already created delays that knocked Texas out of the influential March 6 Super Tuesday presidential primaries. More Americans vote in primaries or caucuses on that date than on any other.
The state and the minority groups fighting over the lines drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature for the 2012 elections told the judges yesterday they were still far from a consensus and had “insurmountable” issues on at least one proposed congressional district.
Earlier yesterday, the groups told the judges they had reached a deal on the state Senate maps, one of three sets of maps in dispute. The judges ordered the parties to remain in the courthouse after the hearing to continue negotiations on state House maps.
The Republican National Committee revamped the presidential primary calendar last year so that the nomination contest would extend beyond Super Tuesday.
The four remaining candidates have shown no sign of dropping out of the race soon. Thus far, they have split victories in the early races with Rick Santorum winning Iowa, Newt Gingrich taking South Carolina, and Mitt Romney pocketing New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada. Texas congressman Ron Paul came in second place in New Hampshire, third in Iowa and fourth in Florida and South Carolina.
Santorum picked up three more wins last week in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, and Romney won the Feb. 11 Maine caucuses.
Both Republicans and Democrats are set to hold their Texas political conventions in early June, on dates and in locations committed to years ago.
Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri asked the judges to issue an order allowing the party to change its delegate election rules.
“It’s already a hotly contested presidential race, so I’d like to not have any lawsuits to deal with and having a court order helps on that end,” Munisteri said.
Four New Districts
The Legislature carved out four new U.S. congressional districts to accommodate the 4.3 million residents the 2010 U.S. Census found the state added since 2000. Hispanics, who more often vote for Democrats than Republicans, accounted for about 65 percent of the growth. Republican Governor Rick Perry approved the maps.
Latinos and lawmakers whose jobs were threatened by the Legislature’s new maps sued over claims Republicans distorted districts to prevent the election of minorities, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Republicans claimed they didn’t discriminate and are legally permitted to draw lines that favor the elected political majority.
The case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).
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--With assistance from Jeanne Cummings in Washington. Editors: Peter Blumberg, Andrew Dunn
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