REDISTRICTING LAWSUITS COULD AFFECT CITY ELECTIONS

In the ongoing state-level redistricting saga, the Texas attorney general has suggested to the U.S. Supreme Court that the Court could delay Texas House and Senate primary elections, if necessary, to a date in May that is already scheduled as the primary-runoff election date (May 22, 2012).  If the Supreme Court grants the attorney general’s request, that might affect cities’ ability to conduct their elections on the May 12, 2012, uniform election date due to the inability to secure legally required electronic voting machines.

State-level redistricting is a political hot-button issue that the League stays away from at all costs.  So far in the complex legal wrangling, the Texas Legislature passed new maps earlier this year, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia has initially declined to “preclear” the new maps because the may violate the federal Voting Rights Act (a trial will be held to make the final determination), and the federal District Court for the Western District of Texas issued its own “interim” maps to try to move forward with the 2012 state primary elections.  The attorney general’s office, which must defend the legislatively drawn maps, then sought an emergency stay from the United States Supreme Court to stop the use of the Western District Court’s interim maps.

The attorney general’s suggestion that the Supreme Court use the primary runoff date for the general primary could play into pre-existing concerns relating to S.B. 100 (passed by the Eighty-Second Texas Legislature earlier this year to implement the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009).  Senate Bill 100 implemented the MOVE Act in Texas by moving the primary runoff date, which used to be held on the second Tuesday in April of even numbered years, to the fourth Tuesday in May. 

The new primary runoff date means that the May uniform election date (the second Saturday in May that most of the state’s more than 1,200 cities use for their general elections) will fall between the primary and primary runoff dates in even numbered years.  This has caused concern for many cities because state law requires that each polling place have at least one electronic voting machine. 

While there are several ways that cities can obtain machines, the most common has been to partner with their respective counties to do so.  Since S.B. 100 went into effect in September 2011, many county clerks and election administrators have agreed to contract with cities, school districts, and other local governments to provide machines for the upcoming election.  Those agreements, as well as ongoing negotiations, are likely premised on the assumption that runoffs on the new May 22, 2012, date would be rare, sparsely attended, or both.  Moving the general primary to May 22 would alter that assumption.

The League has submitted a letter to the attorney general stating our concerns, providing alternatives, and offering technical assistance on the election date issue.  The letter is available here:
http://www.tml.org/legal_pdf/AG%20letter%20re%20redistricting%20suit%20113011.pdf


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