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Texas Supreme Court will hear bid to put every Austin City Council seat on November ballot

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 4 days ago Katie Hall, Austin American-Statesman
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A lawsuit that would require that all 10 Austin City Council seats be on the ballot in November has already made its way to the Texas Supreme Court, due to a law that expedites election-related litigation before voters arrive at the polls.

The lawsuit claims that roughly 24,000 redistricted Austin residents will be essentially denied the opportunity to vote, since they've been moved into a district represented by someone they didn't elect. Staggered elections mean the terms of several council members are not expected to be up until 2024: Vanessa Fuentes, Chito Vela, Leslie Pool, Mackenzie Kelly and Alison Alter.

If successful, the lawsuit would preemptively end the terms of those five council members, although they could run for reelection.

More: Lawsuit aims to put every Austin City Council seat on November's ballot

During a state District Court hearing in Travis County, attorneys for the city argued that placing all 10 seats on the ballot after redistricting is unnecessary, while former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire, who is representing those who filed the suit, argued that doing so is vital to voting rights. 

"I think that the arguments are legitimate on both sides," state District Judge Lora Livingston told the attorneys. "They are competing arguments, to be sure, but I think there is legitimacy to their respective positions. It will require some balancing and some thoughtful consideration."

Aleshire has already filed petitions with the Texas Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court, but both he and city attorneys said they still want Livingston to weigh in on the matter. The timeline of when the courts will rule is unclear.

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Aleshire is representing 13 registered voters in Austin whose residences are shifting into other districts. Some of them last voted in a council district race in 2018, meaning that, under the city's current plan, it would be six years by the time they get to vote again.

The city recently redrew City Council district boundaries with an independent group of volunteers, a process required every 10 years to balance district populations using U.S. Census Bureau data.

According to Aleshire's research, nearly 24,000 people are shifting from districts that will appear on this year's ballot to districts that will not. An additional 16,675 voters were shifted from being represented by one council member to another without an opportunity to vote, according to the lawsuit.

"We're asking the court to protect the right of these plaintiffs — and frankly of every Austin voter — to vote on an equal basis for the council member who represents them," Aleshire told Livingston. 

City attorney Brandon Mickle argued that the request "amounts to really nothing more than a backdoor election recall." 

During the hearing, Livingston said she will have to also weigh the rights of all those who voted on the assumption that each elected council member's term would last four years. 

"They wanted someone to represent them for four years, and now those voters arguably would be disenfranchised" if she were to rule in the 13 residents' favor, she said. 

When it comes to those who have shifted districts, Livingston compared the situation to moving to a new home. However, Aleshire pointed out that's a choice the voter makes, while redistricting is not. 

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas Supreme Court will hear bid to put every Austin City Council seat on November ballot

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