An April primary is all but dead.
Although the San Antonio court clearly wanted to try to have an April primary of some sort, those hopes appeared dashed when election officials from around the state told the court that an April 17 primary was a severe physical and logistical challenge and “setting counties up to fail.” All but one of the nine election administrators present also felt that an April 24 primary was not feasible given the amount of work that needed to be done to redraw precinct boundaries and prepare for elections.
Getting the maps done in time also appeared to be a challenge - with the judges on the panel seeming disagreeing on key issues. When the Harris County clerk tried to suggest that an April 24 was salvageable if maps could be finalized by Monday, February 20, Judge Rodriguez cut off discussion with the question, “What’s your next date?” (to general laughter in the courtroom)
In addition, the Justice Department’s lawyer, Tim Mellett, threw a new wrinkle into the April primary mix when he told the court that McDaniel v. Sanchez, 452 U.S. 130 (1981), required that any new interim map to be precleared under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to the extent the map incorporated a settlement with the State of Texas - a process that under the best of circumstances probably would take at least a couple of weeks.
The Justice Department also reiterated its view that the San Antonio court did not have the authority to waive preclearance requirements for new precinct boundaries or requirements of the MOVE Act.
In short, for logistical and legal reasons, an April primary now looks out of the question.
A split primary also is dead.
A split primary also appears dead as a result of confirmation by the state that it does not have funding to pay the estimated $13-$22 million needed to pay for a split primary.
If that changes, both political parties were amenable to a split primary, but the fundamental issue is one of cost.
A May 29 or June 26 primary?
Although a May 29 primary appeared to be the most likely fallback date, Judge Rodriguez suggested during the questioning that a June 26 primary would allow the court to wait for a ruling from the D.C. court. (A position supported by Congressman Joe Barton and several of the redistricting plaintiffs.)
The court did not resolve the issue Tuesday. We may get a better sense Wednesday when the hearing continues. At least one more day of waiting for candidates.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties were adamant that their state party conventions will take place the second weekend in June as scheduled.
If there is either a May or June primary, the move would require changes to party rules to accommodate a late primary.
For Democrats, among the changes discussed today by the party’s general counsel, Chad Dunn, was the possibility of forgoing precinct conventions and moving directly to senate district and state conventions.