Sunday, December 13, 2015

Yet all are heard

Back in 1964 the Supremes issued a ruling that included, "legislators represent people, not trees or acres." That ruling established the guideline "one person, one vote" when drawing up Congressional and legislative districts. That has meant each district should have the same population.

The Supremes heard oral argumenets for the case Evenwel v. Abbot which asks the question: In "one person, one vote" what is a person? Everybody? Citizens? Or a voter, one legally allowed to vote (leaving out children and prison inmates)? Or maybe it should be a voter who actually votes – one who is registered and shows up regularly at the polling place? How regularly – every election (including school board and dog catcher) or is voting in presidential elections enough?

The plaintiffs are in Texas. They complain that if they are in a district with a lot of voters and compare that to a district with fewer voters even if both districts have the same population, then the power of their vote is diluted. They have less electoral clout. Their example: suppose the 31 districts for the Texas senate were drawn such that there was one voter in 30 of them and the last district had all the other voters. In 30 districts the single voter has total control of who is elected. In the last district a single voter is part of a much larger pool of voters and their one vote doesn't mean much.

In the real world plaintiff Sue Evenwel says her vote in the district she is in is only 40% as effective as it would be in an "ideal" district.

The three-judge panel at the District Court rejected the challenge, saying the Texas Legislature could follow whatever metric they wanted to satisfy "one man, one vote." The plaintiffs appealed to the Supremes.

Up to this point in reading about the case I had been puzzled about who was bringing (funding) the suit and what angle they were pushing. Put another way, I wondered how did conservatives or those angling for a corporate takeover figure out how this was going to benefit them.

But a discussion of the premises of the theories underlying the case, especially the second point made things a bit more obvious. Yes, they say, all constituents of a legislator have a right to contact their various representatives to express opinions and grievances. However, a right of access does not include a right of equal access. Those who vote should get preferred access. That's one scary idea.

Texas responded by saying things similar to the District Court – what metrics the legislature uses in creating districts is entirely up to the legislature. Yeah, this is Texas and the state has already gotten approval to do redistricting any time it wants (such as after the GOP gains majorities on both parts of the state legislature) rather than just after the 10-year census. So leaving the metrics of redistricting solely to the legislature also raises alarm bells.

But the state does have another good point. Population in a district is easy to count – the Census Bureau supplies those numbers. But frequency of voting and computations of vote strength would only tie the whole thing in court battles for years.

Now we get to the interesting stuff – which types of organizations filed supporting briefs for which side of the case. For the plaintiffs are conservative and libertarian groups. Their main arguments are that voting power has shifted to cities and cities tend to have large populations of people ineligible to vote. These are the same people pushing voter ID laws. Motivation is now clear.

On the side of Texas are liberal and progressive groups, including the Democratic National Committee. The express two major points. First is there isn't a metric to do what the plaintiffs want. Second, they quote from those who wrote the Constitution (though it doesn't appear this quote is in the Constitution). They...
decreed that the whole population is represented; that although all do not vote, yet all are heard. That is the idea of the Constitution.
A ruling will come sometime by the end of June.

Completely missing from the discussion was gerrymandering – intentionally making a district 55% GOP, which makes the votes of all Democratic voters essentially meaningless. That also "dilutes" the strength of my vote.

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