Texas will hold its general primary election for 2012 on May 29, a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio ruled after approving interim electoral maps in an effort to resolve differences over congressional redistricting.
Today’s announcement by the judges comes amid months of wrangling over the state’s electoral maps, which were created last year by the Republican-controlled state legislature and challenged by activists as racial gerrymanders intended to prevent the election of Latinos. The judges approved interim maps Feb. 28.
The redistricting fight delayed the state’s election schedule and knocked Texas out of the so-called Super Tuesday contests on March 6, when more Americans vote in primaries or caucuses than on any other date. The judges had been pushing state officials and opponents of the maps to reach a compromise that would let elections proceed without further delay.
“This date was a long time coming,” Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Texas Legislature’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which opposed the state’s maps, said in a phone interview. “More needs to be done, but at some point there needs to be an election.”
Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, declined to comment on the new primary date.
“We’re very happy to have a primary date, although we’re disappointed it has been pushed back so late in the primary process,” Chris Elam, a spokesman for the Texas Republican Party, said in phone interview. “The will of the Legislature had been that we have a primary next week.”
While the 2012 primaries will proceed according to the revamped schedule, the redistricting battle will continue until there’s a final resolution in a pair of lawsuits that have already reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
To accommodate the delayed primary schedule, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ordered the candidate filing window to be reopened until March 9, so that candidates can make adjustments for the new boundaries.
Texas gained four new congressional seats to accommodate 4.3 million new residents since 2000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. About 65 percent of the new Texans are Latinos, who more often vote for Democrats than Republicans. Republican Governor Rick Perry approved the new voter maps created by the legislature, which his party dominates.
Minority voting-rights activists and Democratic lawmakers sued Perry in San Antonio federal court, while Texas filed its own lawsuit seeking “pre-clearance” from a federal court in Washington. All states with a history of voting rights violations must obtain pre-clearance from either the Justice Department or a Washington court before they can use new maps in an election.
The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the San Antonio panel to redraw maps the lower-court judges had created in November, ruling that the San Antonio judges hadn’t been deferential enough to elected officials who had created the state’s original maps.
Fischer said the court’s redrawn interim voter maps appear to create two new districts that favor the election of Latinos that weren’t in the Republican versions.
State political party leaders had cautioned the San Antonio panel that there wouldn’t be enough preparation time to hold primary elections by May 29 if new maps weren’t approved by the end of this week.
The judges said they wanted to avoid imposing the financial burden of holding primary elections on multiple dates. They also said they wanted to hold the primaries before the political parties’ state conventions, which were scheduled for early June.
Elam said state Republican party leaders met yesterday to approve procedural changes that will allow the Texas Republican convention to begin June 7 as scheduled.
The Texas case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio). The Washington case is Texas v. U.S., 1:11-cv-1303, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The appellate case is Perry v. Perez, 11A536 (Congressional map), U.S. Supreme Court.
To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at email@example.com; Tom Schoenberg in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org