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Galveston County redistricting plan blocked by federal judge

Seems to be a lot of stories like this these days.

A U.S. District Court judge has blocked the county’s redistricting plan for this election cycle because it has not received preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

In an order issued Tuesday, Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt wrote that “because the redistricting plans for Galveston County Commissioners, Constables and Justices of the Peace have not been precleared pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the plans may not be implemented.”

Some background on the suit is here.

The lawsuit contends the county filed its redistricting plan to the U.S. Department of Justice too late for the plan to take effect this election cycle.

All plans for redistricting must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice in a process known as preclearance.

The lawsuit claims the county waited until the last minute to file the plan, which would prevent preclearance in time for the upcoming election.

[…]

[Plaintiffs’ attorney Jose] Garza said he couldn’t say whether the redistricting plan was the county’s answer to changing demographics or whether the new district lines were politically or even racially motivated.

“The timing of the filing for redistricting sort of muddies those issues,” Garza said. “The date of release of information was available in March. Then the county waited until August to adopt a plan, then sat on that plan for 50 days before (county officials) made a submission to the Department of Justice, fully knowing that we had an impending election schedule. That’s problematic.”

What was the basis of the lawsuit? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

The new boundaries fail to take into account Latino population growth, which accounts for 50 percent of county growth over the last decade, the lawsuit says.

The new map eliminates two constable and justice-of-the-peace districts – drawn in 1992 under a consent agreement reached in federal court to increase minority election opportunities – and reduces the percentage of Latino and black voters in most redrawn districts, the suit says. The 1992 agreement expired in 2002.

Judge Hoyt declined the plaintiffs’ motion for an independent three-judge panel to hear the merits of the case on the grounds officials were already disputing the map with the Justice Department. I presume what this means is that the districts and precincts that are in place today will remain in place for the 2012 election, and that the resolution of the preclearance question with the Justice Department will determine what happens after that. This was not an option for Harris County because the population variation between Commissioner precincts was unlawfully great.

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  1. […] redistricting plan had previously been blocked by a federal court judge since it hadn’t been precleared yet. No one is quite sure what happens next, but as the Chron […]