DOJ approves Dec. 12 election date

Suzanne Gamboa

Associated Press

Dec 7, 2006

The Department of Justice is allowing Texas to go forward with the Dec. 12 date for a congressional runoff after federal judges ruled early voting could be extended because the election falls on an important religious day for Catholic Hispanics.

The decision to hold the runoff Tuesday has angered some Hispanic groups who have said it is an attempt to suppress the Latino vote to boost election chances for Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla.

Bonilla faces Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, a former congressman, in the runoff because no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 election.

Dec. 12 is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the day many Hispanics mark the appearance of the Virgin Mary before Indian peasant Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. Many Hispanics attend Mass, hold processions and gather with family and friends.

The Voting Rights Act requires states with a history of voting discrimination against minorities to get DOJ approval, known as preclearance, for many elections decisions.

Texas officials had first said they didn't need the preclearance, but later decided to seek it. The law required the state to prove it was not violating the Voting Rights Act by setting the election for Tuesday and allowed groups to file objections. The state also had the opportunity to cure the problems raised by objectors.

In a letter sent to the state, the DOJ said the attorney general did not object to the date or the additional early voting days. The agency can change its mind should new information come to its attention in the remainder of the 60 days it had to review the issue, a DOJ spokeswoman said.

"The day that was set was done in accordance with state law and we have done our best to ensure voters in this district will be well represented and protected in this election," said Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State.

But Luis Vera Jr., national attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the preclearance wouldn't have been given had the judges not required the extended early voting.

Originally, LULAC had wanted the date moved to Dec. 19. But with time dwindling and the judges' rulings allowing the extended early voting, LULAC dropped that request. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund also objected to the vote.

Vera said his group still believes the date was picked to affect the election outcome.

"Everything that was done in this election was deliberately done to suppress the Latino vote and the workers' vote," said Vera, who also is serving as Rodriguez's treasurer during the runoff.

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