Federal government’s lawsuit over Texas redistricting might delay state’s primary election

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas primary election is scheduled for March 1, but some say it could be put on hold because of a new federal lawsuit.

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state over its new redistricting maps, alleging the new maps for state and federal districts deny or dilute the votes of Black and Latino Texans.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said he’s fought against Texas redistricting before and supports the DOJ’s challenge.

He doesn’t believe any map changes would dramatically affect the newly-created district he is running for, Congressional District 37.

“This district is mainly the city of Austin, Westlake and Rollingwood,” Doggett said.

He said CD 37 is the area he represented before previous redistricting-related legislative and court actions changed his boundaries.

“And now, the district I serve today stretches from north of 183 and I-35, to the very south side of San Antonio. So often, I find myself needing to be at events in both San Antonio and Austin at the same time,” Doggett said of CD 35, which also now has new boundaries under Texas’ new maps.

He said one change he’s concerned about that might come out of the legal battle is pausing the March primary.

“I hope that doesn’t happen, because it moves us off the traditional day, and it usually means fewer people participate,” Doggett said.

The lawsuit asks the court to stop Texas from holding elections under these maps and to make new redistricting plans.

Richard Pineda, University of Texas at El Paso political science professor, said it’s one of the few things the DOJ can try to do right now: delay the primaries or use existing district maps.

“This is one of the important questions when it comes to these kinds of lawsuits, which is the timeliness of how quickly you can get a federal judge to intervene,” Pineda explained.

Pineda said changing maps will be a lot trickier once the primaries start.

“The state is making these changes that’s affected the U.S. congressional districts, but this has also affected municipalities that have redrawn lines for municipal seats like county commissioner districts and also city council seats,” he said. “So it throws a huge wrench into the works to try to stop all these things or try to move against them.”

“But if there’s any entity that has the power to — the Department of Justice,” Pineda added.

Pineda said the next legal steps are to wait for additional filings and for the court to decide a venue and assign a judge to the case.

KXAN reached out to a few of the state lawmakers who supported Texas’ newly redistricted maps. They either did not respond or were not available for an interview.

In October, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, defended the new maps during a debate on the Senate floor.

Huffman led the redistricting process in the Senate and said she took the Voting Rights Act into consideration, which is now one of the bases of the Justice Department’s new lawsuit.

“While these maps were drafted blind to race, it is wrong to say that race was wholly ignored in my end-to-end process. I’m committed to giving due regard to all factors relevant to legal compliance, including compliance with section two of the Voting Rights Act,” she said.

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