TEXAS REDISTRICTING & ELECTION LAW

Updates about ongoing redistricting litigation in the Lone Star State and coverage of election law more generally. This website's goal is to try to make sure the redistricting process and litigation over voting law is as transparent and accessible as possible to the public. Hopefully, it will be of some use to a broad range of interested parties, both lawyers and non-lawyers. Have questions, comments, suggestions, additional content, or a redistricting joke (or two)? Feel free to contact me: Michael Li, michael.li@mlilaw.com, 202.681.0641.
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A bunch of questions have come in by email and twitter about possible changes to the election schedule.  Here’s an attempt at answering some of them.

When will we know about the date of the primary?

Representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, the State of Texas, and redistricting plaintiffs are scheduled to meet on Thursday in an effort to reach an agreement.  If they don’t, the court will probably become more proactively involved in trying to push the process along.

The holdup appears to be a division of opinion on the Republican side about whether to have a single primary or to split the primary with the primary for some races being on March 6 and other being moved to a later date.

If the primary were moved, when would it be?

There are several proposals floating around. 

One proposal by the Travis County plaintiffs would move the whole primary to April 3.  RPT chair, Steve Munisteri, told the court yesterday that he thought that might be a viable option.

However, an April 3 date would require that the maps be finalized by January 28, given the lead time needed for military and overseas ballots. In other words, the Supreme Court would have to cooperate by ruling relatively quickly after the January 9 oral argument in order to give the San Antonio court time to make any necessary changes and then time for counties to redraw precincts as needed, print ballots, etc.

Other discussion had been about various May dates, but those dates have to work around municipal elections in early May and also bump up against the Democratic and Republican state party conventions in early June.  Those conventions would be expensive to move. 

If an agreement is reached, the thinking among some observers is that a reasonably feasible date probably would be some time in mid-April.

Could the presidential primary be held separately from everything else?

That’s an option that RPT chair, Steve Munisteri, offered yesterday as a compromise position.  However, there still would be the same issues of cost (see below) and timing.

If the primaries are split, who would pay for the second primary?

It’s not clear, but it’s a significant issue.

In the normal instance, the costs for primaries are split between county governments and the state. County governments pay for the costs of early voting, and the state pays for election day voting.  Counties and the state split the costs associated with mail ballots.  In many counties, the state/county split works out to be about 60%/40%, but in counties with higher early voting, the split could be 50%/50%. 

The testimony Tuesday was that a second primary would costly. Election officials from Bexar County said an added primary and runoff would cost their county alone extra $300,000.  In Dallas County, the costs for the county could be as high as $750,000.  An official of Maverick County testified that his rural county likely would have to layoff several people to be able to come up with the money needed for a second primary.

In response to the testimony, the court asked if the state would be willing to pay for the added cost.  The state’s attorney said he was not in a position to say but would explore the issue with state officials.

The added cost is a widely cited reason for trying to find a way to maintain a single primary.

What about the December 20 ballot order draw - is that still on?

Technically, yes, but for practical purposes, no.  For one thing, candidates could later switch races or additional candidates could file when the filing period is reopened.  There’s also the logistical issue of getting a final list of candidates who filed with the state party office to 254 county parties in time for the draw the next day. 

The Texas Democratic Party has already advised its county chairs that they should not expect to conduct ballot order draws on December 20.

I am collecting signatures to get on the ballot, how will that work with district lines up in the air?

Truth is this is probably not the best year to try to get on a ballot using petition signatures if you are running for the Texas Legislature or Congress.

Once the district lines are finalized, there probably will be a relatively short window for candidates to collect signatures of people who live in the new district.  

Candidates can continue collecting signatures, but they do so assuming the risk that the signatures may not be valid based on the final lines.  

The court’s order talks about reopening the filing period. Would candidates who file for offices other than legislative or congressional seats be allowed to change races?  Would the reopening of the filing period apply to those offices?

Yes.  Once the final lines are in place for legislative and congressional districts, candidates and would-be candidates will be given a fresh opportunity to take a look and decide if they want to run, for example, for sheriff or for Congress - or for precinct chair for that matter.   

Why was the filing deadline moved to December 19 if the filing period is just going to be reopened anyway? 

This was at the request of the Republican Party of Texas. The RPT and Republican county parties stopped accepting ballot applications for a couple of days, and they felt some ‘make up’ filing time was needed.  The party also said that some of its candidates felt it was important to get on the record as running - a stake your claim sort of thing.

What’s been done about the election schedule thus far?

See this post:

http://txredistricting.org/post/14231636187/san-antonio-court-signs-order-on-election-deadlines