Federal redistricting judges in San Antonio want to see if they can get agreement from the parties on political maps in time for an April 3 primary and said they are "giving serious consideration" to split primaries if no agreement can be reached by the first week of February.
The three federal judges will meet with the parties this afternoon (Friday) instead of waiting until February 1, as first planned.
The five-page order setting up the meeting is full of dates and deadlines:
• The judges said they will almost certainly move the candidate filing deadline now set for February 1.
• They said the parties should confer and submit agreed-upon interim maps for legislative and congressional elections by February 6 if they "wish to maintain the current election schedule." If they can't agree, the judges want a list of districts in the Legislature's maps that each party no longer objects to.
• The parties are involved in hearings in Washington, D.C., where a separate panel of three federal judges is deciding whether the Legislature's maps violate preclearance provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act. Ideally, the San Antonio judges would have that court's ruling in hand before it approves redistricting maps. It's asking the lawyers to give the Washington court a nudge: "With high respect for the importance of that proceeding and the prerogatives of that court, this Court hereby requests both sides in the San Antonio proceedings to request, on behalf of this Court, that the D.C. Court attempt to rule on the Section 5 issues in time for this court to incorporate those decisions into its ultimate decision on the redistricting plans for the 2012 elections for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, and the U.S. Congress."
• The Texas judges say they are giving "serious consideration to whether a so-called 'split primary' will be required" for this year's elections, and asked the lawyers to be ready to talk about it at the end of the week. They also want lawyers for the state to be ready to say whether the state would be prepared to reimburse counties and the political parties for the "substantial additional expense of a split primary."
• The judges asked for comments on the idea of a presidential primary on April 3 with most or all other elections held later. The earlier presidential primary would relieve the Republican and Democratic political parties, which hope to have the primary elections well before their state conventions in June. The Republican Party of Texas has suggested the split primary on several occasions; the Democratic Party, in filings this week, said it would prefer a unified primary if possible.
The Texas judges adopted interim maps for congressional and legislative elections last year, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that they didn't give proper consideration to maps that were approved by the Legislature and that are awaiting the approval of that other federal court in Washington, D.C. That ruling means the San Antonio judges need to come up with a new map before elections can be held. At issue now is whether they should wait until the Washington court is finished.
The state is urging the court to try to hold the elections on April 3, as scheduled. Local election administrators from around the state have told the judges they need final maps by the end of the month to hold that election.