Wrap-Up On Today's Redistricting / Election Schedule Hearing

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Update Wednesday 11:25 a.m.: Redistricting expert Michael Li says that the San Antonio court won't be waiting until January 12 to resolve the primary election calendar quandary. It is supposed to be worked out through mediation this week.

It was busy in San Antonio federal court today as the three-judge panel that redrew the congressional and legislative maps heard from various parties regarding the impact of the ongoing redistricting lawsuit on filing deadlines and election procedures here in Texas. Notably, nothing about actual districts was decided or discussed — that's up at SCOTUS for now. Instead, today's hearing dealt with the ensuing problems from SCOTUS deciding to stay the maps. With candidate filing originally set to conclude this Thursday, December 15, confusion has reigned supreme over the last few days, since SCOTUS's late Friday decision to stay the maps. However, all of this chaos stems directly from Republicans' gerrymandered maps and overreaching effort to squash the electoral power of minority voters.

The most important things to take away today are as follows:

    1) Filing is extended for all candidates, all parties through Monday, December 19 to accommodate the GOP's suspension of filing for two days

    2) State Rep, State Senate, and Congressional candidates can file for districts from either map (the Legislative map, which was denied not granted preclearance, or the San Antonio court map, stayed by SCOTUS on Friday). I am not sure if candidates can file for a seat on BOTH maps.

    3) Filing will eventually re-open when there are final maps. It's unclear when that will be, but certainly after SCOTUS wraps up their case, which should be mid-to-late January.

    4) Candidates can amend or withdraw any filings filed to date. However, it's unclear when the new drop-dead withdraw date is, in part because it's unclear when the election is.

    5) It's still unclear if we will have one or two primaries and when it or they might be. That will be decided in a hearing on January 12. Yes, January 12, one month from now. Until then, technically we proceed as if the March 6 primary is still happening. But for which races? Unclear.

So, yeah, chaos and uncertainty, basically. Sucks to be a county chair or county elections administrator right now.

Here's some analysis are some of the highs and lows from today's hearing, drawn primarily from the court record generated by two live-tweeters in the courtroom today, the always-awesome Michael Li (@mcpli) and star Daily Texan alum Nolan Hicks (@ndhapple).

  • Key to the whole ordeal was a discussion about whether or not the San Antonio Federal court had jurisdiction to extend filing. Abbott had sought a stay over the weekend to halt all filing for office in Texas. The Federal court does have jurisdiction (under the All-Writs Act, apparently, remember that for pub trivia), and extended this first round of filing through Monday the 19th. If they hadn't, there would have been some VERY unhappy candidates who haven't yet filed for office. Yikes.
  • Update 7:36 p.m.: Other reason for the filing deadline ruling — the original SOS filing schedule (pre-Fed Court map re-draw) had filing closing yesterday. The Fed Court had extended filing when they announced the new maps.
  • The Republican Party of Texas initially proposed a split primary schedule, retaining Presidential, statewide, and countywide races only on the March 6 ballot, and moving all races that have map and precinct-boundary implications (Congress, State Senate, State Rep, SBOE, County Commissioner, Constable, etc.) to May 29th.
  • Moving the GOP Presidential primary election to after April 1 could have an impact on the eventual Republican nominee — per RNC rules. primaries held before April 1 must award their delegates proportionally. Primaries after April 1 can be winner-take-all.
  • 16 GOP State Senators signed a letter supporting a unified President-to-Precinct-Chair primary. Word is the GOP Congressional caucus also supports the move, worried that a smaller, lower-turnout primary for district seats would give undue influence to Tea Party-aligned voters.
  • The Texas Democratic Party opposes a bifurcated or split primary. Attorney Chad Dunn stated that the TDP's view was that a split primary was unconstitutional and would file a legal challenge against the split primary.
  • Interim TDP Chair Executive Director Bill Brannon spoke about the implication in these changes to the Texas Two-Step delegate selection process. Changes to the delegate selection plan would require preclearance to make sure there's no minority disenfranchisement. This is important because both Precinct and Senate District lines may change, and those are the jurisdictions we use to move delegates through the process.
  • Many of the witnesses–county clerks and election administrators–focused on the costs of holding two primaries.A Bexar County official said that the state provided 60% of the elections costs, and the county the remaining 40%. The county's share increases, however, as the rate of early voting increases. There is no decreased cost with less names on the ballot. Counties would see their expenses double if they had to hold double the primaries.
  • In smaller counties with lower revenue, the higher election costs could force the county to lay off workers to close the budget hole. It is unclear if the Secretary of State's office or the state in general can reimburse or cover these increased election costs. Lawyers for the state were unable to answer if the state could cover the costs.
  • Precinct lines are a big issue here, since Commissioners Courts will likely need to re-draw precinct lines if there are any changes to the Congressional or Legislative maps. Changes to precincts will require counties to send revised voter registration cards with the right precinct number on them, which of course costs money! It could also impact the elections for precinct chairs (if you are drawn out of your precinct, you would no longer be chair, though I believe your CEC could still appoint you) as well as  precinct conventions. And can you still be a delegate to a County, Senate District, or State Convention if you are drawn out of your precinct after the election but before the convention?

So, while the San Antonio court provided some answers today, the bigger question as to the date(s) of the primary/primaries and run-off(s) and which races might be included in which split primary are yet to be answered. We won't know for sure until January 12 at the earliest when the San Antonio court takes up the election date(s). By then we'll also have had filings, responses, and oral arguments in the SCOTUS redistricting cases as well.

In the meantime, today's hearing leaves us with a few major issues to think about:  

  • Both the Democratic and Republican Parties' state conventions are scheduled for June 8-9. It would be weird/awkward if the primaries for all offices weren't concluded by then. It would probably cut into the whole “unity” theme of party conventions since the intra-party squabbling would be far from over, and we all know nasty local primaries cause the deepest divides. I am pretty sure moving the conventions is out of the question given the logistics and costs involved.

  • Remember, again, that if the GOP Presidential primary is moved to April 1 or later, it is possible for the delegates to be awarded winner-take-all. In a state like Texas, with 158 total delegates, the second highest in the country, that can have a huge impact on the overall race. This Christian Science Monitor article has more on the process, and why the delegate count will likely be close through the end of March. Imagine if Perry manages to win the Texas primary in April and suddenly becomes a factor in an RNC convention floor-fight over the nomination? Similarly, Ron Paul should do well in caucus and proportional states due to the strength of his ground game. Could he get shut out in Texas, where his support is strong?
  • Just to push that idea further, can you imagine the uproar amongst Democrats in 2008 if suddenly, just months out from the primary-caucus, the rules — not to mention the election date itself could be moved. What if that ultimately impacted the math of who became the nominee? And if a delegate was drawn out of one SD and into another, and as a result wasn't able to get voted through to the state or national convention?
  • Obviously a unified primary will save taxpayer money and result in increased turnout at all levels of the ballot. It's generally agreed that a more partisan electorate will show up in a second primary for just district seats, which could have a variety of ramifications I'll save to discuss later. But it's noteworthy that the larger electorates probably favor incumbents. So it's no big surprise to see the incumbent GOP State Senators and Congressmen trying to avoid Tea Party voters making up a larger share of the electorate, which could well determine the outcome of the elections.
  • Update 7:39 p.m.: Another thought — if the primaries are postponed, that too could change the outcome, as either additional candidates decide to file, or campaigns use the added time to better organize. It's an interesting wrinkle that is hypothetical for now, but still a potential impact of this endless litigation.

Above all, throughout this brouhaha we've seen increasing calls for an independent redistricting commission. This process is causing anxiety and difficulty for both incumbents and challengers, political parties and election administrators, and everyone from precinct chair to state party chair. In the next legislative session, it would be great to see leaders from both parties consider whether or not we can improve this process to avoid the Republican overreaching in the form of gerrymandered, minority-stifling maps that got us into this mess in the first place.  


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

1 Comment

  1. Redistricting
    What this actually communicates is that there is really no one in control of this process. The degree of ambiguity our current Supreme Court has inflicted on voters is loathsome. For champions of a minimal and deferential judiciary, there are many paths the court could have advised, and the compromise that Texas has been forced into reeks of a polycentric solution, that is, “act like every scenario is possible.” I cannot as a lawyer see how this is defensible or not independent grounds for action. The fact that a candidate could be slighted by the ambiguity, not to mention the possible split of the primaries or bifurcation of the process (already complicated) seems to provide a fertile ground for more lawsuits.

    The Supreme Court shows an incredible disregard for separation of powers and federalism by allowing the Executive branch to be circumvented and creating severe burdens on our state, and especially, our county officials. An independent redistricting commission is one possible solution. The greater fear I have in this process is that if the Supreme Court sides with our great state, it could completely gut voter protection. By limiting the power of a district court, or approving maps not precleared or submitted to the Department of Justice, the Supreme Court is effectively stating following federal law is optional. It invites forum shopping between the Supreme Court and the Executive. With a Supreme Court beholden only to ideological or personal convictions, and a young Chief Justice, it is a possibility that the Roberts Court could redefine voter participation in ways even more radical than Citizens United.

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