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A Late Guessing Game

What's usually known in December before an election year won't be known now until February: Who's actually in these races?

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One interesting side effect of the state's redistricting battle is that the Texas filing period will open up again before the primaries and candidates — including presidential candidates, by the way — will be able to pull their names off of the ballot. If Gov. Rick Perry decides to stop before then, he can pull off his name, leaving Ron Paul as the only Texan in the race at the top of the GOP primary. Will that affect turnout? The results?

It keeps the betting window open for a while, and the races are forming up differently. Candidates have filed for districts that might not exist, and some (maybe) didn't file because of the uncertainty. What's usually known in December before an election year won't be known now until February: Who's actually in these races?

The dates could easily change, but as they stand, the courts have said there will be another filing period ending February 1 — with candidates able to add their names, delete them, or change their filings. Perry and anyone else will be able to pull out if they want to. We'll all know more by then: That's the day after the Florida primary, and New Hampshire (January 10) and South Carolina (January 21) will be history by then.

It also puts third-party efforts into a box. They have to file their petitions with the state by May 28 and any signers who voted in the primaries can't be counted. Under the current schedule, the primaries will be over on April 3, but the runoffs won't be until June 5, and in Texas, you don't have to vote in a primary in order to vote in a runoff. Unless they patch that hole, candidates like Donald Trump — if he moves ahead with his bid — could have petition signers wilting away in the primary runoffs after their deadline for replacing them has passed.

The messes are endless.

Over the holidays, the associations that represent counties and county officials went to court to say the April 3 date is unworkable unless some adjustments are made to the law. With the cases pending in federal courts over the month of January, the timeline might be unworkable anyway; election officials can't draw precinct lines without political maps and can't get voter registrations sent out and back and early voting handled and on and on. And they don't want the blame if the legal dithering screws up the primary elections.

May dates are problematic because of local elections in many parts of the state. Among the issues: they don't have enough voting machines for two different elections too close to each other, and primaries can't be held on the same dates as other elections. For one thing, primaries don't include places where independents can vote, and those people sometimes like to choose their own mayors.

The other big bump on the calendar is the first full week of June, when the Republican and Democratic parties hold their state conventions in Fort Worth and Houston, respectively. They have to have election results before then to organize and choose delegates and so on.

The judges ordered the parties and the election officials into a room to try to work things out; that didn't produce an agreements or timelines. Like everything else about Texas politics this year, that's up in the air.

Our last issue of 2011 came out before the first filing deadline for candidates; you can see the election brackets, as they currently stand, here.

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