Ah, Texas, sweet Texas. Badly-redistricted, voter-hostile Texas. Because the 2011 redistricting lawsuits still aren’t resolved, there is a general sense among election officials that one of two things will happen in the next two months:
- Either the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division redistricting panel will be compelled to issue a new and more equitable redistricting plan for the State sometime prior to the candidate filing period, or
- Having failed to hold time in a bottle, the court will reluctantly apply the map used in the 2014 elections once again for 2016, notwithstanding the increasingly problematic and widening gap between that map and the actual state demographics.
The Republicans have a rather handy ace up their sleeve to shoot down the remedial application of any corrective court-ordered redistricting plan, and that ace is their faith in the misapplication of a little U.S. Supreme Court case called Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006). The position of both the 5th Circuit and the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court appears to be that because Purcell called for caution in the application of last-minute court orders that might affect election schedules, it therefore follows that court orders protecting voting rights must not be enforced if an election is right around the corner. And an election is always, always just around the corner.
Of course, that’s just stupid, as Justice Ginsberg more than adequately explained in her dissent in Veasey v. Perry on the eve of the November 2014 election. When actual harm is being done to voters through actual violations of the law, the violator should not be able to say, “Oh well. Sorry about breaking the law, but it’s so close to the election. We just don’t have time not to break the law.”
If the judicial redistricting panel is going to fix Texas districts, it needs to do so by no later than November of this year – owing to increasingly early candidate filing deadlines to accommodate the Texas primary elections, district boundaries need to be known by no later than … well … now, if you want to be precise about it. The first day to file for party precinct chair elections is Tuesday, September 15th. Yes, as in September 15th, 2015. As in two weeks. The first day for candidates to file is one month later, on November 14th. The deadline to file is December 14th. Yes, as in this year.
The Texas Tribune has a nice background piece on the looming problem. (Election Managers Partying Like It’s 2012). If I were king, I wouldn’t care whether the parties got to have primaries or not – primaries are private elections conducted by social clubs (i.e., political parties). Primaries are beauty pageants for candidate nominations, and there are all sorts of alternatives in place for picking party candidates – caucuses, nominating committees, etc. Could a court order disrupt the primaries? Well, such are the wages of sin; nobody asked the Legislature to do an illegal job of redistricting back in 2011.
On a related note, Rick Hasen nicely excoriates our fair state in this recent analysis for Slate Magazine. (Texas Two-Steps All Over Voting Rights).