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SCOTUS redistricting briefs

Opening briefs for the SCOTUS hearing on Texas redistricting were filed yesterday – you can see them here. The State of Texas is going long – Michael Li explains.

The State of Texas asks the Supreme Court to let the state use the maps passed by the Texas Legislature for the 2012 election cycle, citing now tight election deadlines.

Texas’ 2012 elections have already been delayed by agreement of the two major political parties. Even the deadlines contained in that carefully crafted agreement, however, are rapidly approaching. Candidates for office need to know the borders of the districts in which they will be running. Voters need to know who their candidates will be. Election officials need to print and mail absentee and overseas ballots. And, in order for the primaries to go forward on April 6, 2012, as agreed to by the political parties, usable redistricting maps must be in place by February 1, 2012. Especially for the presidential primaries, any further delays will significantly diminish the role of the nation’s second-largest State in choosing the parties’ presidential candidates.

In light of these exigencies, there simply does not appear to be enough time to remand the case and allow the district court to craft yet another batch of interim maps for the upcoming elections. Accordingly, this Court should vacate the interim orders and remand to the district court with instructions to impose Texas’ legislatively enacted plan as the interim plan while preclearance is pending.

The state’s request is almost certain to draw sharp rebukes from plaintiff groups, contending that the relief sought by the state, if granted, would essentially gut section 5 preclearance and reward states for going slow.

SCOTUSblog goes into more detail. Of course, as Matt Angle pointed out, the reason we’re up against a tight schedule is because the Republicans who controlled the redistricting process took their sweet time, and chose the least swift option, at every step. One could argue, as the plaintiffs have, that keeping the San Antonio maps would also accomplish the goal of minimizing the work that needs to be done by elections administrators to get ready for the primaries, without incinerating the Voting Rights Act. That’s what the state is aiming for, to be sure, and there’s a non-trivial chance they’ll get it. I don’t know how to estimate the chances of it.

Speaking of the schedule and the election admins, they’re already sounding the alarm.

Texas counties say the April 3 primary election date won’t work.

In papers filed in federal court this afternoon, the officials who actually administer the state’s elections say that date — agreed to by the Democratic and Republican parties and ordered by a panel of federal judges in San Antonio — creates an impossible situation for them.

[…]

In their legal briefs, the Conference of Urban Counties, the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, and the Texas Association of Counties said they agree that all of the primaries should be held on the same day, but object to the date chosen by the political parties:

Despite agreement with the unified primaries, the County Organizations believe the Order issued in these consolidated cases on December 16, 2011 imposes on counties requirements that (1) are impossible to comply with, or that will be extremely difficult and expensive to comply with, if compliance is physically possible; and (2) may lead to voter confusion and disenfranchisement.

They said they’re basing that position on conferences with several counties of various sizes, from Harris, the state’s most populous county, all the way down to Shelby, with its 25,400 residents.

The court based the April 3 date on having a map in place by Feb. 1. But the counties say that wouldn’t leave them enough time. The court would give them only two weeks to prepare voter registration certificates that take six to seven weeks to prepare, the groups said.

“If voter registrars are required to mail inaccurate voter registration certificates in order to meet the deadline set by the Court, there is likely to be much confusion among voters. And voter confusion leads to voter disenfranchisement,” they wrote.

Isn’t this fun? I just have no idea what’s going to happen. Everything about this year is unprecedented. I don’t know what to expect.

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