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Holder vows to reinstate Voting Rights Act preclearance rules for Texas

Friday, July 26, 2013 by Jo Clifton

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declared his intention Thursday to intervene in the continuing battle over redistricting of Texas Congressional and state House seats, as well as the possibility of a challenge to Texas’ new voter ID law. Holder made the announcement before the National Urban League in the morning and filed a statement of interest with respect to Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act with the San Antonio federal court in the afternoon.


The Department of Justice statement asks the court to impose preclearance rules on all voting changes in the State of Texas for a period of 10 years – and maybe more – after the order is entered. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott vowed to fight the move and Democrats applauded Holder’s decision. In June, the US Supreme Court stripped Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 of its list of states needing preclearance but noted that there were other avenues within the act for preventing discrimination against minorities.


Holder has chosen one of those avenues. The difference here is that the Justice Department must prove discriminatory intent before preclearance is imposed.


That could be another long battle but the San Antonio court will be under pressure to move quickly so that the state can have primary elections in March of 2014. Voters had to wait until May 29 in 2012 for primaries. All of that could affect local elections for County Judge, commissioners, state representatives, district judges and other offices.


As for City of Austin elections, they are currently not scheduled until November 2014 and there is no primary. However, the city has radically changed the way Council members are elected through the Charter Amendment approved last November and a panel of citizens known as the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) is beginning to think about how they might start the process of drawing maps for 10 districts.


City officials breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court declared that Texas, as well as other states, need not go through the arduous process of preclearance in their sweeping decision last month. But Holder aims to put Texas back into preclearance mode.


Based on the Supreme Court decision, the city and the commission are proceeding on the assumption that they will not have to have preclearance for the district maps – whenever they get those drawn. If candidates are to run for a full six months, they need to know where the district lines are by next May ahead of a November 2014 election. 


Through spokeswoman Samantha Park, the city’s Law Department released the following statement Thursday. “Though we have not had an opportunity to review (the Department of Justice filing) . . .  we do not anticipate it will affect our process at a local level. The City and the ICRC will continue to comply with the Voting Rights Act and move forward with a process that is inclusive, and reflective of our community.”

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