CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia officials no longer face a Jan. 17 deadline to submit a new congressional redistricting plan, but they also cannot conduct this year's three U.S. House races with the map that was struck down last week as unconstitutional, the federal judges who issued that decision said Tuesday.
The federal panel refused to suspend last week's ruling pending an appeal, and urged the Legislature to draw congressional districts that are nearly equal in population. That's what's called for in last week's U.S. District Court ruling. The panel concluded in a 2-1 vote that the redistricting plan approved in August fell short of the one-person, one-vote principle.
"Reiterating our strong preference that the State act on its own behalf in redistricting, we shall defer any and all action with respect to a remedy until after the Supreme Court has disposed of the Defendants' forthcoming appeal," the order said.
Lawmakers otherwise would have to delay the election calendar for this year's congressional races, the judges wrote. The filing period for all 2012 candidates began Monday, and ends Jan. 28. The primary is May 8.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, as West Virginia's elections chief, must certify the 2012 primary candidates by Feb. 14 under the current calendar. Her office was reviewing Tuesday's order, said spokesman Jake Glance, who declined immediate comment.
"The filing of an appeal by the Defendants likely makes it more difficult [or even impossible] for Secretary Tennant, county officials, and potential candidates for Congress to comply with the current deadlines, but that is a choice reserved for the State," the order said.
Tennant said in a Tuesday statement that she's evaluating the order.
"Even though the panel implied that an election is merely an event which takes place on one day and that the secretary has nearly four months to prepare, many mandated deadlines exist prior to May 8," Tennant said. "Absentee ballots are required by federal law to be mailed to overseas and military voters no later than March 23. Before ballots can be mailed, they must be designed, positions selected by lot, proofed and approved and candidates must have time to file."