Less than a week after a federal judge ruled Galveston County’s precinct maps violated the Voting Rights Act, the U.S Fifth Circuit Court issued a stay on the order.
U.S. Circuit Court Judge Jeffery V. Brown ruled Oct. 13 that a newly drawn Galveston County commissioner’s precinct map denied Black and Latino voters an equal opportunity to select a candidate of their choice.
But on Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on Brown’s order until Nov. 2, the day after the county was supposed to present its newly proposed map to Judge Brown. This original deadline was to ensure a new map would be in place before the window for applicants to apply for the 2024 Galveston County Commissoner’s Court election opened on Nov. 11. It is currently unclear how the stay will impact the deadline.
On Nov. 12, 2021, the Galveston County Commissioner’s Court adopted a map in which Black and Latino voters did not make up the majority of any precinct despite making up about 40 percent of the county’s total population. Under this new adopted map, white voters made up about 60 percent of the eligible voting pool in each of the four precincts, according to the initial lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Galveston branches of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, the U.S. Department of Justice and current and former county leadership.
Commissioner Stephen Holmes has represented Precinct 3 since 1999, which previously consisted of the county’s sole non-white voting majority – near 58 percent – and represented cities such as La Marque, Dickinson and parts of Texas City.
The newly adopted 2021 map shifted Precinct 3 to the northern border of the county and consists of predominantly white voters. Under this new map, minority voters made up less than a third of Precinct 3.
If the map were to stand, Holmes would most likely not be re-elected and Galveston Commissoner’s Court would turn into a 5-0 Republican majority.
This lawsuit was the first test of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 since the Supreme Court upheld it in June in regard to the redistricting of Alabama’s congressional maps. This section prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color.
Representatives for Galveston County could not be immediately reached for comment. The Texas Civil Rights Project had no comment.