COMPROMISE REACHED ON PRIMARY ELECTION DATE FOR NOW
A recent court order in the ongoing legal battle over state-level redistricting has tentatively rescheduled the Texas primary election to take place on April 3, 2012. That date is good news for most Texas cities because it should mean that counties will be able to provide electronic voting machines for the May 12, 2012, municipal elections. Uncertainty remains, however, because the redistricting war is far from over.
As reported in the December 8, 2011, edition of the Legislative Update, the lawsuit challenging the redistricting maps adopted by the Texas Legislature had threatened to affect city elections that are slated to be held in May 2012.
What caused cities concern? A federal court struck down the new maps drawn by the Texas Legislature during the 2011 legislative session. That court then proposed its own maps, which the attorney general appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In his brief to the Supreme Court, the attorney general proposed that – should the primary elections need to be delayed to allow the Supreme Court time to review the new maps – the elections for which the new districts are pending could be postponed until the date reserved for the primary runoff election (May 22, 2012).
Holding the primary election on May 22, 2012, could have been detrimental to cities because the counties might not have been able to share their electronic voting machines for city elections held on May 12. To ensure that state officials were aware of that problem, the League submitted a letter to the attorney general stating its concerns and providing alternatives to his proposal.
But prior to any decision being made by the Supreme Court regarding the Texas primary election date (the Court still hasn’t taken action), the parties to the lawsuit agreed that the primary election date should be moved from March 6, 2012, to April 3, 2012. (The federal district court issued an order on December 16, 2011, that formally set the primary election date as April 3, 2012.) Following the order, statewide organizations representing Texas counties filed a joint advisory memorandum with the trial court to express the practical and legal difficulties that county election officials would have complying with the new primary election date.
The League staff also filed correspondence with the court to point out the difficulties that any further changes to the primary election date could have on Texas cities. We pointed out the problem with the proximity of the primary election and city elections that will take place on May 12, 2012. (More specifically, the League requested that – should the primary election date need to be rescheduled again – it not be rescheduled within ten days on either side of the May uniform election date.)
Oral arguments in the redistricting case took place before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, January 9. At this point in time, all primary elections are scheduled to take place on April 3, 2012. Of course, depending on how (and when) the Supreme Court disposes of the redistricting suit, that date is subject to change.
Cities that are conducting elections in May 2012 will want to keep in close contact with their county election officials to make sure that the legal wrangling over redistricting does not jeopardize their scheduled elections.