redistricting

Todd Wiseman/Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear a case that centers on how Texas draws its political districts, a longtime point of dispute between the state and voting rights advocates.

The high court said it will take up Evenwel v. Abbott, which involves whether Texas should use total population or voting age population when composing districts. The debate is especially pertinent in Texas, where some districts include many people living in the country illegally who are not eligible to vote. 

Today is the first day that campaigns and candidates for the Austin City Council can start soliciting or accepting political contributions. Although many things will be radically different this election cycle, asking for money will remain practically the same. 

When Austin voters changed the city’s form of government in 2012, they did not change anything when it comes to campaign contributions. Still, the city’s clerk Jannette Goodall says campaign contribution limits are adjusted every election cycle according to inflation.

For instance, the charter says 300 dollars “and I believe the current amount is 350,” says Goodall.

A federal court has ordered Texas to use political maps drawn by the Legislature this year for holding 2014 elections, but only on an interim basis. A three-judge panel in San Antonio issued the ruling today, giving both sides in the lawsuit over Texas' voting maps reason to claim victory. The court denied the state's request to throw out the lawsuit brought by civil rights groups. which claim the Legislature intentionally discriminated against minorities in 2011 and needs federal supervision. Here's more from KUT News' reporting partner The Texas Tribune:

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

The Texas Senate is recessed until June 12 and the House until June 17 as lawmakers hear public testimony on the 2012 court-drawn voting maps. What does that mean for a possible price tag?

If the special session lasts the full 30 days, the Legislative Budget Board says it would cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, is the chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee. He says the work has value.

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, was on the redistricting committee ten years ago. She's not on it this year but says special sessions on voting maps tend to be similar.

"Most other issues you can compromise, you can negotiate, but redistricting becomes so political," Sen. Nelson said.

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

Texans who want to offer opinions on the state’s political boundaries don’t have to do it here in Austin.

The opportunity is being expanded to other cities. State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said today he wants "broad input" on the voting maps’ deficiencies and how to fix them.

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

It’s all about redrawn political lines these days at the Texas Capitol, and at today’s first hearing of the Senate Redistricting Committee, more questions arose.

But one thing has become clear: Lawmakers will be in Austin at least until mid-June.

Laura Rice, KUT News

The Texas Senate is holding a public hearing this morning on redistricting.

It’s a chance for people to tell lawmakers what they think about district maps drawn for state House, Senate and Congressional elections.

Ben Philpott, KUT News

Legislative redistricting meant all Texas senators had to run for office in 2012. But since the Senate has staggered four-year terms, it had to pick about half of its members to run again two years from now.

Five senators now represent some part of Travis and Williamson counties. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, each got four-year terms. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, got two-year terms.

flickr.com/s_falkow

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a call from the League of United Latin American Citizens to bar the use of Texas district maps drawn by a panel of judges for use in the November elections.

The maps were drawn to replace maps put together by the Republican-led Texas legislature. In August, a Federal Court in Washington D.C. blocked their use.

But LULAC argues that the maps drawn by the judges were based on the maps drawn by the legislature so both should be thrown out.

"Everyone agrees. Everyone, including the state, agrees that these maps are flawed. There's something wrong. We all disagree over exactly what is flawed but, either way, there's flaws in them," LULAC's attorney Luis Vera says.

Bob Daemmrich for Texas Tribune

Greg Abbott, the state’s ambitious and litigious attorney general, is on a losing streak.

Federal courts in Washington ruled against him in two crucial voting rights cases last week, first finding that the redistricting maps drawn by the Republican Legislature didn’t protect minority voters as the law requires, and then ruling the state’s tough new photo voter ID law unfairly burdens minority voters.

Neither ruling appears to be a threat to the elections now under way. In the case of redistricting, the state’s maps were replaced this year with interim maps prepared by another set of federal judges. In the case of voter ID, there doesn’t appear to be enough time for the courts to turn around an appeal and order the new standards before November.

davis.senate.state.tx.us

A three-judge federal panel has found that Texas' redistricting plans do not merit approval.

The State of Texas sued Attorney General Eric Holder in an effort to get the federal government to sign off on the plans. But in a newly-released opinion, the court states “that Texas has failed to show that any of the redistricting plans” – for seats in the U.S. Congress, the Texas House and the Texas Senate –  “merits preclearance.”

Political blog Talking Points Memo links to the opinion here.

Photo by KUT News

At its meeting today, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the use of vote centers for the November 2012 Presidential election.

Vote centers, or countywide polling places, give people the option to vote at any polling location in the county.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says that vote centers are more convenient than traditional precincts and eliminate some confusion. She says that’s especially true considering that without the vote centers, the county would be required to add about 30 new polling locations for the November election because of redistricting.  

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman / Chris Chang, Texas Tribune

This is a squeeze play.

The state’s Hispanic population is blooming, and its black population grew faster than its Anglo population. But Anglos still dominate the political maps, and Latinos dominate the part of the political maps controlled by minorities.

When the Legislature drew political lines, minority groups were in widespread agreement that the maps didn’t reflect the growth — there were not enough seats where minority voters had the ability to decide elections.

Texas outgrew the other states in the country, so much so that it added four seats to the 32 already in its congressional delegation.

Map image State of Texas; Doggett photo doggett.house.gov; Vote photo KUT News

DC Questions Doggett's New District

District 25 in Texas newly-redistricted voting map is currently represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, and encompasses a large portion of Travis County.  But now, a federal court in Washington DC has questions about District 25 that could delay Texas 2012 primaries yet again.

The main issue is whether District 25 – which contains white, Hispanic, and African-American voters –  deserves minority protection under the Voting Rights Act or not. 

 The court asked for briefs by March 13 on District 25, and if they deem it a minority district deserving protection, that would send the map back to the drawing board, the Austin American-Statesman reports, with primaries falling well into the summer.

Texas only recently saw its primary date set for May 29.

May 29 it is.

The federal court in San Antonio that’s overseen the Texas redistricting battle has set a firm date for primaries in the state.

May 29 had been posited as the likely primary date, and now the court’s order makes it official. The date for run-offs is July 31.

A federal court in San Antonio has issued maps for United States House and Texas House seats that, barring further appeals, will be used for elections this year. 

The new maps boost the number of congressional House districts that dip into Travis County to five, dramatically changing the district for long-time Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett. Uncertainty over how the districts would be drawn (in turn leading to postponement of the Texas primary date) have thrown a wrench in election plans for candidates, including Doggett, who currently represents District 25.

Doggett is widely expected to run in the new District 35, which stretches from eastern Travis County down to San Antonio.

The roiling legal battles over election laws passed in various states have potentially far-reaching consequences: the fate of a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The landmark legislation requires the Justice Department to "pre-clear" any changes to election laws in some or all parts of 16 states, mostly in the South, because of their histories of racially discriminatory voting practices. The Justice Department recently used the mandate to block a voter identification law in South Carolina on grounds that it would harm minority voter turnout.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/joegratz

Redistricting Maps Must be Drawn By Saturday for May Primaries

According to the Texas Tribune, if redistricting maps are not drawn by Saturday, March 3 then primaries will move to June.

The Tribune reports that the primaries cannot be held on May 29 if the deadline is not met this weekend. Instead, the date will yet again be pushed back, this time to June 26.

“The lawyers working on House maps have been pushing back and forth, primarily on three districts, and haven't produced an accord. And congressional maps, several lawyers have said, will have to be drawn by the three federal judges in San Antonio, because the parties can't seem to find common ground."

If the primaries are held in late May or June, the primary runoffs will be delayed to July 31 or August 28 reports the Tribune.

KUT News' Andy Uhler sheds some light on the court's long battle over the redistricting maps.

Image courtesy Chesapeake Energy

UT Study Says Fracking Doesn’t Directly Contaminate Groundwater

A new report by the University of Texas at Austin released this week says there’s no direct link between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing – a controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil from shale formations.

The research was done by UT's Energy Institute. The report’s authors say contamination is often the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wasterwater, but not caused directly by fracking. 

Fracking involves blasting water, mixed with sand and chemicals, underground to fracture rock and improve the flow of natural gas and oil. The practice is used at the North Texas Barnett Shale.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is also studying the environmental effects fracking may have on groundwater. Its preliminary results differ from the UT study.

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