Texas to Use Voter Maps Disputed as Biased in 2016 Elections

Updated on
  • Judges say it's too close to primaries to change boundaries
  • Voting-rights activists see Hispanics, blacks shortchanged

Texans will vote in the 2016 elections using electoral maps that activists have challenged in court for five years as biased against the state’s burgeoning minority population.

A panel of federal judges in San Antonio ruled Friday it’s too close to the March 1 primary to change district boundaries. Civil rights advocates had sought to put in place new maps now to prevent Hispanic and black voters from having their voting strength minimized for another election cycle.

The judges said they haven’t made a final decision whether the Republican-drawn districts violate federal voting-rights protections. They said they didn’t want to risk delaying elections or confusing voters so close to the start of voting. Candidates for most elective offices can begin filing to to run on Nov. 14.

If the court “imposed yet another set of interim plans for the 2016 elections, the shifting district and precinct lines would leave candidates in limbo, voters confused, and election officials with the burden of implementing new maps in a timely manner with very limited resources,” the judges said. “It would be extremely difficult to implement new interim plans without tremendous interruption to the 2016 election schedule.”

Voting-rights activists sued Texas in 2011 to block the redistricting plan created by lawmakers at the urging of then-Governor Rick Perry, who in September dropped his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

In three separate federal trials, the state defended its maps, saying drawing districts to protect incumbents isn’t against the law.

Activists had pressed the judges to adopt new maps that corrected what they said were discriminatory boundaries created by state lawmakers in 2011 and codified in temporary maps the court crafted for use in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles.

Texas lost its slot in the influential Super Tuesday presidential primaries in 2012 because of election-calendar delays caused by the litigation. By the time Texans voted that year, the national party candidates were already selected.

Texas gained four new Congressional seats after adding 4.3 million residents in the previous decade, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. More than 90 percent of the new residents were minorities, who tend to vote more frequently for Democratic candidates, based on historical election data.

The case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).