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High court rejects lawsuit alleging staggered elections with new maps violates voters' rights

city_of_austin.jpg
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

A lawsuit alleging the City of Austin did not extend voting rights to tens of thousands of residents has been rejected by the Texas Supreme Court — and the battle likely ends here.

In March, attorney Bill Aleshire sued Austin’s City Council members on behalf of a dozen city residents. In the lawsuit, filed in Travis County district court, Aleshire argued roughly 24,000 people who had been moved into new council districts as part of the city’s redistricting efforts had been denied their right to elect a local representative.

“They were moved from a council district that had been on their ballot to one that has never been and won’t be for two more years,” Aleshire told KUT in March.

But two courts have rejected Aleshire’s argument. In May, a Travis County judge sided with the city, and on Friday the Texas Supreme Court said it would not take up the case.

“We are pleased that the Texas Supreme Court has decided not to review our Charter requirement for staggered terms for Council Members, which was originally passed by Austin voters,” a City of Austin spokesperson wrote in an email Monday.

Austin staggers its council elections as part of a measure voters approved in 2012. While council members serve four-year terms, elections for council seats are divided and held every two years.

But when a group of volunteers redrew the map of council districts last year — something the city is required to do every 10 years in response to new census data — some residents found themselves in new districts, being represented by people they had not voted for.

Aleshire told KUT he has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the lawsuit or to at least issue a judgment on the issue.

“I’m proud to represent those voters who stepped forward to try to protect everyone’s right to vote — the right to give their consent — on who represents them on the Austin City Council,” he said by email. “I’m disappointed that the Texas Supreme Court did not take this opportunity to address what the right to vote means under the Texas Constitution.”

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. Got a tip? Email her at audrey@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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