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Drawing Contingency Maps

The federal redistricting panel in San Antonio is sharpening its crayons and asking the pack of lawyers in that case to make suggestions about corrective maps.

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The federal redistricting panel in San Antonio is sharpening its crayons and asking the pack of lawyers in that case to make suggestions about corrective maps.

It's a timing thing: The federal court in Washington — that's the one that has to preclear the maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — isn't holding hearings until next month.

The San Antonio panel held its hearings last month but hasn't ruled. But on the off chance that the DC court doesn't get its work done in time for the elections, the Texas court asked lawyers to submit suggestions for an interim map. The idea is that the Texas court could order elections to be held on a temporary map and the courts could then kick out a permanent map later.

The screwiest version of this was in the 1990s. A court-drawn map was put in place for the 1992 elections. The Legislature came back in a special session to try to draw its own map, but there wasn't time to get preclearance. A mess of senators lost election in 1992, and then the legislative map got approved for the 1994 elections. It took three more years to comb out that hairball — almost until it was time to redistrict all over again.

It's also entirely possible that the courts will get everything done in the nick of time, and lawmakers will go on the ballots with maps that have more than a temporary blessing from the federal courts. The House and Senate maps used in 1992 came out of a Christmas Eve ruling by the federal courts. Ten years later, the courts approved congressional plans on November 14 and House plans on November 28.

Late is the norm. One complication this year is that filing deadlines were moved up to comply with new federal laws. Unless the court temporarily waives the new deadline (not unusual), candidates have to file for office by December 12.

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