A move by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to stop Texas from using redrawn congressional and legislative election maps could throw next year’s election schedule into turmoil.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had requested a stay, which the nation’s highest court granted. It will hear arguments about whether interim maps redrawn by a three-judge panel in San Antonio should be used in 2012. Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 9.
Plaintiffs attorneys have sued the state, saying the maps discriminate against minorities. Abbott contended the interim maps disregarded the will of the Texas Legislature.
"We understand the need for speed for Texas voters as well as those who wish to run for office, and will work to resolve this matter as quickly as possible," Abbott said in a statement after the Supreme Court decided to hear the case.
Election officials have said the legal wrangling could delay the March primary election, especially for counties that are split into two or more districts.
Somervell County, which currently is in Congressional District 25 under the latest plans, remains intact, but it still could be affected.
“At least the legislative and federal elections will not be held in March,” County Judge Mike Ford told the Commissioners Court meeting Monday morning. “We’re probably looking at a May election.”
What’s not yet clear is whether county elections will take place as previously thought, with the primary in March and the elections in May, Ford added.
“Since our county lines haven’t changed, we probably can go on and have the primary,” Ford said. “Some counties are split.”
Then again, “they may put us all on hold,” Ford said. “We may have to come back and change dates.”
Ford said he expected that all counties would push for the election to be held on May 12 because it’s difficult and costly to reprogram their voting machines.
Texas and other states with a history of discrimination must get redistricting maps approved by the federal government before the maps can take effect. The Justice Department has raised questions about the Texas maps.
Complicating the matter is that ballots need to go to overseas voters, such as those in the military, by Jan. 21.
The fight over redistricting already has affected the election process by changing the deadlines candidates could file. Instead of having a month, candidates were not allowed to begin filing until Nov. 28. The deadline for filing to run is Thursday, Dec. 15.
On Monday the Texas Attorney General’s office filed a motion with the San Antonio panel urging it to stay all deadlines for candidate filings and administration of the 2012 elections for the Texas House of Representatives, Texas Senate and Texas’ congressional districts.