Gregg County commissioners set primary date, but map dispute could change it
Jan. 30, 2012 at 10 p.m.
Gregg County commissioners called an April 3 primary election date Monday knowing they might have to reset it if protesting parties don't agree on district lines in time.
The Texas Attorney General's Office and lawyers for plaintiffs suing the state over political maps were told by a federal court on Friday they could save the April 3 primary if they agree on maps by Feb. 6. Otherwise, the San Antonio panel of judges kept open the possibility of holding party primaries later in April, in May or even June.
"So basically, we can't move forward until we have a new map that has been agreed on by both parties," Gregg County Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy told commissioners Monday.
Hispanic and Democratic plaintiffs claim the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature did not fully account for Hispanic and minority population growth since 2000 when it redrew political boundaries.
The court said that whatever maps the lawyers agree on will be temporary for this election cycle.
Nealy asked commissioners on Monday to OK the April 3 date because it must be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice now. That deadline, like others such as when mail and military ballots must be postmarked, are tied to the primary date.
"We have to mail the military ballots out 45 days before an election," Nealy said after the meeting. "So, that's what we are wondering - will we have 45 days to get things done once they settle all the lines?"
If the parties meet a Feb. 6 deadline, that would leave 56 days before an April 3 election.
And that would give Nealy and the state's other elections administrators 11 calendar days to design local ballots and mail them to military voters.
The court in San Antonio on Friday also suspended a second window during which candidates can file for office. The same court's Dec. 16 decision had created that window but given it no start date, only a Feb. 2 end.
If a second filing window is created around an April 3 election date, it will crowd those 11 days Nealy and the rest have to put ballots together.
Voter registration cards also are being held up by the maps battle.
Nealy added that Gregg County's 21 polling places might or might not be available for some unknown, new date if that occurs. Those initially were reserved for a March 3 primary, which the redistricting suits pushed to April 3.
"They weren't prepared for April," Nealy said of the schools, community centers and churches hosting elections.