Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Redistricting hearing ongoing; some highlights

The hearing began this morning with Judge Grady Jolly telling the parties that the panel wanted to hear everyone's positions on 1) the Secretary of State's Motion to Dismiss on ripeness grounds, 2) the feasibility of implementing new plans at this date, and 3) objections to implementing the Joint Committee plans, as the court is inclined to do.

The Governor went first, with his attorney Steve Thomas calling John Diaz (or John Diez, I still don't know which) to the stand to explain the plan the MSGOP submitted on May 5th. Diaz testified that he was asked by Tim Saler, executive director of the MSGOP, to draw a plan that adhered to plus or minus 1% deviation in all districts, and that preserved the core of existing districts. Diaz said he submitted his maps to Saler after about 2.5 days. Diaz then compared his maps to the Joint Committee plan maps. In doing so, he said e wasn't as familiar with the Senate plan as he was with the House plan. (Interesting, because it shows where the MSGOP's priorities are.)

Tim Saler then took the stand to basically say that, as a novice with maps, it wasn't difficult for him to tweak the maps in response to complaints from Republicans. Saler stated that he did alter the maps Diaz created prior to submitting them to the Court last week. However, Saler seemed confused about the number of incumbent pairings the maps he submitted created.

All in all, the two witnesses offered by the Governor seemed to argue past what the Court was looking for, which was outlined at the start of the hearing and confined to the Motion to Dismiss, feasibility of enacting a new plan at this time, and objections to the Joint Committee plans. Steve Thomas did a good job, given that the Court had already indicated it wasn't inclined to draw maps, which is what the MSGOP and Gov. Barbour wanted. I've been in similar situations, and it's not fun.

After Thomas finished, there was some question as to who should go next. Robert Gibbs, lead counsel for SOS Hosemann, said he needed a ruling on his motion to dismiss before he could decide whether to put on his witness, Madeline Lennep. Judge Jolly said they were not going to rule at that time, and that Gibbs should "anticipate that (the motion) will be denied."

Gibbs then called Lennep to the stand. Lennep is a contract employee with the SOS's office who helps implement the Statewide Elections Management System. The theme of Lennep's testimony was that it would be hard to update SEMS with new district maps in time for the printing of military absentee ballots. She spoke at length about how elections officials would have to work quickly to identify where new lines fell in split precincts. She could not name any circuit clerks she'd spoken with who indicated they could not implement new maps, though.

Judge Jolly then declared a lunch recess, and court is set to resume at 1:30 pm.

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