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Judge rejects voting rights suit against city

Wednesday, May 18, 2022 by Jo Clifton

In a brief letter Tuesday, Travis County District Court Judge Lora Livingston ruled in favor of the city of Austin and against plaintiffs who argued they were being denied their right to vote as a result of redistricting. The plaintiffs argued that, when they were moved into another district that isn’t voting this year, they lost the ability to cast a vote they would have had in their previous districts. The virtual hearing was held last week.

Attorney Bill Aleshire argued on behalf of the 13 plaintiffs seeking to force the city to hold elections in districts 2, 4, 6, 7, and 10 in November. The city currently is scheduled to hold elections for mayor and City Council districts 1, 3, 5, 8, and 9.

Some people were moved from one district to another; for example, from District 1 to District 4, where Council Member Chito Vela was elected with the previous constituency of his district in January. He will finish out the term of his predecessor, Greg Casar, who left to run for Congress.

The plaintiffs argued that the new members of that district were disenfranchised because they will not be able to vote on a district representative until 2024. Other voters were moved from District 4 to District 1, making them eligible to vote again in November.

However, Judge Livingston ruled that the city charter’s staggered term requirement does not violate the Texas Constitution as a whole, or the constitution’s equal protection clause.

Attorneys for the city argued that the courts have already rejected arguments that any temporary deferment of an opportunity to vote violates the constitution. The judge agreed and granted their motion for summary judgment.

Aleshire had already filed a petition for mandamus with the 3rd Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court. The appeals court quickly rejected his petition and the matter now goes to the state Supreme Court for a final ruling.

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