March 5, 2012
By Bill Conrad, Star Local News
Even though a compromise was reached on one set of redistricting maps on Wednesday, it is unlikely the state primaries will be held before late May.
On Wednesday, lawyers for the state and for minority groups agreed on a tentative map for the state Senate, but no agreement has been reached on U.S. and state House maps. With those maps still up in the air, the April 3 primary date is no longer possible, and U.S. Judge Jerry Smith told the parties to plan for a May 29 primary, although he said that date was not set in stone.
"I think the court in San Antonio will try and move the discussions toward reaching a resolution on the other two maps," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at SMU. "I would expect there to be a primary in late May."
Jillson said there has been talk about holding a split primary, with the offices that are not affected in the redistricting debate -- such as president, U.S. Senate, and the county positions -- held on April 3. The remaining spots would be up for election at a later date.
The problem, he said, with this approach was that it would cost the state considerably more money since two sets of primaries, as well as their respective runoffs, would have to be held. He said there are also fears that a split primary would result in a much lower voter turnout for the second election. The downside to the late date, Jillson said, is the presidential race will likely be over by the time Texans get to vote on who they want the Republican nominee to be.
"If the primary is in May, there is a small chance the Republican presidential nomination could still be open, but I find it more likely that Mitt Romney will have won," he said.
The uncertainty surrounding the primary has caused some headaches for the Collin County Elections staff, who are not sure how to prepare for an election with no date. Patty Seals, the deputy elections administrator for the county, said a May 29 date would be doable, but would pose some challenges.
"Municipal elections are set for May 12, and early voting for those races begins on April 30," Seals said. "If the primary happens on May 29, early voting will begin May 14, only two days after the municipal elections are held."
Another issue is that May 28 is Memorial Day, when the buildings housing many polling locations are closed. Seals said the county staff would have to gain entrance to the buildings on the 28th in order to bring in additional ballots and equipment for the next day. She said until a date is set, the county will not know how many locations will be used for the primary.
Seals said she is not worried about having enough equipment for the two elections, since many large municipalities are not holding elections through the county this May because of the Senate Bill 100, which had the side effect of driving up election costs in odd-numbered years. Plano, Plano ISD, and the city of McKinney all canceled their elections for financial reasons, and Frisco is using Denton County. Of the four largest cities in the county, only Allen is contracting with Collin County for their elections.
When maps are finally settled upon, the political landscape in Texas could change slightly.
"The makeup of the Texas Senate has been 19 Republicans to 12 Democrats for quite a while and will likely stay that way," Jillson said. "However, after the 2010 elections, the Republicans hold 101 of the 150 seats in the state House, and they are not going to be able to protect all the seats. I think the best they can hope for is to draw safe districts for 88 or 89 of the legislators."
When asked who was to blame for the current redistricting controversy, Jillson said the Republicans were definitely gerrymandering and drawing districts to their advantage, but it was not something the Democrats are completely innocent of. He said in 1980 and 1990 when the Democrats controlled the state Legislature, they did the same thing, only to a slightly lesser scale.
"You have normal partisanship and then you have hyper partisanship, and what the Republicans are doing is looking more like hyper partisanship," he said. "That is why the courts are so heavily involved."