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updated: 9/6/2011 8:08 AM

Perry Accused of Distorting Election Map as Texas Trial Begins c.2011 Bloomberg News

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By Laurel Brubaker Calkins

Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Texas governor and U.S. presidential candidate Rick Perry is to face allegations in a trial starting today that he intentionally distorted congressional districts with the help of Republican lawmakers to prevent Latinos from winning office in the state.

Texas gained four seats in Congress after adding almost 4.3 million new residents since 2000, according to the 2010 U.S. census. Hispanics, who have historically voted more often for Democrats, accounted for about 65 percent of the increase. Republicans hold 23 of Texas's current 32 congressional seats.

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State lawmakers "employed gerrymandering techniques such as packing and cracking of minority communities" to limit the odds that Latinos would win the new seats, according to criticism summarized in a ruling last week by the three-judge panel that will hear the nonjury trial in San Antonio.

Perry, 61, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, signed the bill with the new election map created by state legislators in June. Texas officials presented the map for administrative "pre-clearance" under the Voting Rights Act by the Obama Administration, a step required of all states with a history of violating voting rights.

Congressional representatives whose jobs are threatened by the redistricting plan sued Perry and the state to block approval of the map, as did Travis County, which includes the capital, Austin, and where Democrat Barack Obama outpolled Republican John McCain 64 percent to 34 percent in the 2008 presidential election.

The city and county were splintered under the redistricting plan. Hispanic voter-rights organizations also joined the case.

Divided Groups

"The congresspersons contend the plan unnecessarily splits politically cohesive minority groups, and is designed to minimize or cancel out minority voting strength, both now and in the future," U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia wrote in a Sept. 2 order allowing most of the racial gerrymandering claims to go to trial.

If the new map is approved, "the Legislature's blatant racial gerrymandering will effectively prevent minority voters from having any meaningful impact on congressional elections for the next 10 years," lawyers representing Austin and Travis County said in court papers.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said critics can't draw a better map.

"The evidence shows conclusively that the dispersal of population across the state makes it impossible to draw additional congressional districts consisting of a majority of Latino or African-American voters," Abbott said in court papers.

State's Argument

Abbott also said that to set aside the map opponents must prove "the state acted with specific intent to discriminate on the basis of race and not, for example, on the basis of political affiliation."

At a pretrial hearing last week, state Assistant Attorney General David Mattax told the judges they will have to draw their own map if they reject the one created by the Legislature. He said lawmakers can't reconvene in time to devise a new plan without delaying a November filing deadline for candidates.

Perry announced for the presidential race Aug. 13 and eight days later had moved into the lead among candidates for the nomination, according to a Gallup poll.

"The Legislature determined and approved the map, and the governor signed it and believes it went through a fair process," Catherine Frazier, a Perry spokeswoman, said yesterday in a phone interview.

The case is Perez v. Perry, 5:11-cv-00360, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).

--Editors: Michael Hytha, Charles Carter

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in San Antonio at laurelcalkins.us.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhythabloomberg.net.

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