By Chris Tomlinson
AUSTIN — The federal court in San Antonio on Thursday ordered Texas to hold its primary elections on May 29, resolving for now one of the biggest issues in the state’s redistricting battles.
The three-judge panel issued the election schedule two days after releasing new political maps to be used in the 2012 election.
Minority groups had sued to block the original maps created by the Texas Legislature, claiming the maps either illegally divided minority voters or packed them into only a handful of districts to diminish their political power.
Federal judges in Washington also refused to approve of the maps because of potential violations to the Voting Rights Act.
Those lawsuits forced Texas to twice delay holding primary elections originally scheduled for March 6, and the San Antonio court was forced to draw temporary maps.
In the election schedule released Thursday, the filing period for candidates will reopen on Friday and close on March 9, which gives politicians a chance to change their plans based on the new maps. County election officials will mail out voter registration cards on April 25 and runoff elections will be held on July 31.
While the court order clarifies the election schedule, some minority groups contend that the San Antonio court’s election maps are still unfair.
They have asked the court in Washington to rule quickly on the legality of the Legislature’s maps in hopes that it could force the San Antonio court to draw the maps again.
There is no word on what that three-judge panel will do.
Political observers have complained about the later primaries, saying the date diminishes Texas’ chances of playing a role in choosing the Republican nominee for president.
Many fear that turnout will be low because May 29 is the day after Memorial Day, when many people go on vacation.
Low voter turnout means party activists will make up a larger proportion of the ballots cast.
That could hurt incumbents and more well-known politicians in a year where Republican activists appear hungry for change.
A July 31 runoff could also mean much lower than normal turnout because it comes in the middle of summer vacation.