The war of the maps

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As the Republican presidential primary somehow continues to smolder, the continuing redistricting battle between the state of Texas and various Texas minority advocacy groups is making Texas voters less and less relevant to the result. Despite a court-mandated negotiation over the weekend, the two groups still cannot reconcile their differences, leaving the April 3 primary date looking increasingly unlikely, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The war of the maps has raged since the moment they were passed by the Legislature last spring. At this point, both sides have won various skirmishes: Minority groups won an early victory when a three-member panel of federal judges in San Antonio drew a set of interim maps that redressed their grievances, but the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously vindicated the attorney general’s position that those interim maps went too far and ordered that the panel try again.

Of course, collateral damage is often worse than official casualties. The fight has cost Texas taxpayers at least $1.4 million so far in a year that has seen dramatic cuts to public education and health care services in Texas, according to The Dallas Morning News. Splitting the primary, a move that would secure the April 3 date for casting presidential ballots but delay all other primaries, could cost the state up to $15 million.

The revised maps were drawn with an eye to shoring up incumbent seats, but according to a number of Hispanic and African-American advocacy groups in Texas, they also had the effect of diluting minority voting power. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 makes this illegal and requires that states that have a history of discriminatory voting laws clear any changes to voting procedures with the federal government. The original maps are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit in Washington, D.C., pursuant to this provision, but a decision on their legality is not expected for at least a month.

A compromise proposed by the attorney general last week satisfied some groups but left others with the desire to keep fighting. In the meantime, Texans are missing out on playing a prominent role on the national stage. Irrespective of which side ends up winning, the continued confusion and spending should serve as a clear sign that legislators should make cleaning up the redistricting process — perhaps by creating a separate committee to handle it — a priority during their next session.