By Elsa Maxey
“This should be a very interesting election cycle,” reports local area political consultant Gary Gillen.
The redistricting maps in Texas, drawn and approved by the state legislature this summer and last month changed by a federal judge panel, will be decided starting next month by the U.S. Supreme Court. So for now, it’s safe to say, there are no new legislative districts in Texas, not even the newly created one in Fort Bend County, and no new congressional districts because a decision is pending.
“Candidates for State Representative, State Senate and U.S. Congress who have filed to run for office are considered (just) ‘candidates’ by the State,” said Gillen.
State legislative elections also carry some unknowns locally like who’s running against whom, and even primary and election dates may be subject to change. Candidate filings started Nov. 28, and will end this Thursday. This will certainly create confusion because the filing of applications to run for these offices has been stopped, according to Gillen. “After the courts determine which map to use there will be another filing period for these offices,” he said. “We do not know when the maps or the filing period will be determined.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court to stop “what he felt was overreach by the Federal Judges in San Antonio,” said Gillen. He said the state attorney general believes that when the judges redrew the maps, they inserted themselves into a role the constitution reserves for the legislature.
“The U.S. Supreme Court order should affect only State Representative, State Senate and Congressional candidates in Texas,” maintains Gillen. Fort Bend County’s precinct lines at this point are probably not affected. There were local hearings leading to the approved maps for the four precincts submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. The maps were modified somewhat due to population changes over the last 10 years. But a potential problem could arise if the precinct lines need to be redrawn before the primaries to correspond with and accommodate new map lines. But, this is not likely.
This we know–no maps are in effect for House, Senate and congressional districts and on Jan. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court begins a review of Texas’ redistricting maps to determine which will be used in next year’s election.
A decision from the highest court could delay the primaries or there may be more than one. “I would hope we do not ultimately have two primaries, one for the offices under the Supreme Court ‘Stay’ and another for everyone else, but that could happen,” said Gillen.
Splitting elections? That too, has been tossed around as a possibility. Keep the presidential, State Board of Education and other statewide primaries in place on March 6…maybe, but move the congressional and legislative primaries to a later date, May 22…or just move all the elections to a later date with runoffs in the summer.
Gillen said that while this will create confusion, this is an important “states rights” issue.
After the 2010 census numbers were released, population growth to Fort Bend County gained it a new state legislative seat and statewide with an increase of 4.3 million people, four congressional district seats were garnered raising its current 32 member delegation to 36.
“We must ask ourselves if we want our legislative districts drawn by people we elect,” asks Gillen referring to the legislature. The alternative, he said, is to have federal judges rather than the Texas Legislature, which Gillen prefers to draw districts and not someone in Washington, D.C.
Due to its history of racial discrimination, Texas is one of nine states included in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires federal approval before changing district maps or voting laws.