Monday, March 3, 2008

Texas Revisited

I was just alerted to a new layer in the Texas primary/caucus situation (Thanks to Dan Reed for the heads up on the column in the Houston Chronicle.) that may have some interesting ramifications for the Democratic race in the Lone Star state tomorrow and beyond. Sure the news out of Texas and the Clinton campaign has been that a challenge to the results of the primary/caucus could be imminent if they didn't appear be on the up and up (A Clinton win in the popular vote but an Obama edge in delegates won, for example).

Normally, I'd draw parallels between the Texas situation and the challenges brought by the Clinton camp over the casino caucuses in the lead up to the January Nevada caucuses. Texas, though, is different. [I know, a groundbreaking statement there.] Texas, like so many other states across the South and a few other districts across the country, must submit to a preclearance from the Justice Department under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now, I'm assuming that the state Senate districts that have been the basis for dividing up the delegates available from the state, have been cleared by the Justice Department. While there may not have been close elections in presidential primaries, there undoubtedly have been close contests those state Senate seats and thus the potential for a challenge to the way those districts have been drawn. [No, competitive elections are not necessarily the root of these challenges, but they could trigger one--at least from the candidates' perspective.]

The primary then is not the problem. The caucus is. And that is where the questions arise here. Is the Texas caucus subject to these voting rights act challenges? Some party (individual/group not political party) could bring suit but it would be against the Texas Democratic party and and not the state itself. And that is where the Texas situation falls back into the same area that the Nevada challenge fell. Caucuses are party functions used to decide delegate allocation for the purposes of selecting the parties' nominees. The courts have a history of yielding to the parties (as they did in Nevada earlier this cycle) on these types 0f decisions, citing that the decision is one of party business. A Clinton challenge, if it comes to that, would have to result from an irregularity in the primary results and not the caucus.

From the looks of it DOJ will be in the Houston area monitoring polling places during the primary tomorrow. Sadly for Clinton though, those areas contain many of the African Americans that will be supporting Obama and thus not fertile ground for a challenge.

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