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Redrawing Lines May Go Past 2012

Think redistricting will be over next year? Think again.

There’s a possibility that several key states will go into overtime, with lawsuits dragging the process past the 2012 elections.

The scenarios range from lawmakers having to file for re-election in their current district and then refile later in a redrawn one to, in the worst case, running in one district next year and then a redrawn one in 2014.

Texas and Florida are likely to have the most controversial and litigious maps, with six new House seats at stake between the two states.

The new Texas map has already passed and is awaiting pre-clearance. In Florida, the redistricting process isn’t expected to get under way until early 2012.

In Texas, either courts or the Justice Department must clear the new map before the Dec. 12 candidate filing deadline for the March primary.

Texas officials filed their case with federal courts last month, but there is no set time frame for a ruling.

It’s possible that the federal courts could strike down the map without giving state lawmakers enough time to pass a new plan and resubmit it. In that case, a three-judge panel would likely redraw the map — and it’s anyone’s guess what the final result would be. Candidates would run in the primary and general election under those court-mandated Congressional boundaries — and not those drawn by state lawmakers earlier this year.

The courts ultimately drew the Texas Congressional map a decade ago after state lawmakers could not agree on a plan. That ruling precipitated the infamous mid-decade redraw orchestrated by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

“The Congressmen are deathly afraid of it being sent to the three-judge panel based on what happened in 2001,” said one Texas Republican operative close to the redistricting process.

By comparison, Florida has a relatively late timeline, with a June filing date and August primaries. Redistricting experts in the Sunshine State say it’s unlikely lawmakers will miss those deadlines. They argue that it’s more plausible that litigation over the new Fair Districts amendment could affect next year’s election calendar.

Voters passed that state constitutional amendment last year, which requires state lawmakers to draw districts that are compact and use “city, county and geographical boundaries.” Two Members of Congress filed a lawsuit protesting the amendment last year — one of many related lawsuits expected over the new map.

If courts continue to grapple with the maps through next summer, candidates will likely file to run for House seats under the current map. If the court rules on a new map before the primary, candidates might have to refile for the correct House seat just before August.

“The delays that you and I should be watching are the courts. I don’t think it will be the legislative process,” said Screven Watson, a Democratic attorney and former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. “I don’t think anybody wants a scenario in Florida where we run under the old seats and then we have to come back.”

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