After roughly six years battling the state in court, groups representing minority voters got what looked like a solid win late last month. In mid-August, a federal court ruled Texas had clearly drawn political districts to put voters of color at a disadvantage, so the maps would have to be redrawn, and in a hurry – the 2018 midterm elections are coming up fast. But that victory could be short-lived. Just a week after the lower court ordered Texas to draft new voting districts as the clock ticked towards midterm elections, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito hit the pause button. In a one-paragraph order, he temporarily blocked the new districts from being drawn. The developments essentially put Texas in a court-ordered holding pattern on voting laws and districts, just 14 months ahead of next year’s midterm elections. It’s forced political candidates to wait before filing paperwork and launching campaigns, and it’s left voters uncertain about where they can vote, who they’re voting for and what documents they’ll need, if any, to cast a ballot. But Texas isn’t alone: Eight states are in the midst of litigation over voting districts, including three cases currently on appeal to the Supreme Court. At the same time, four of them – Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania – are major political battleground states that could help determine the balance of power in Congress and whether President Donald Trump wins re-election in 2020.
“It seems like the 2018 election is a long way away, but the [candidate filing deadlines] are just a few months away,” says Michael Li, a voting rights expert at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan policy center.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, concurs: “It’s hard to have candidates file [campaign documents] if they don’t know what district they’re running for,” he says.
Meanwhile, a pending Supreme Court case out of Wisconsin, set for the court’s upcoming term, could throw even more voting districts based on the 2010 census in doubt.