Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Supreme Court decison on 'one person one vote' could shift political power to rural areas

The Supreme Court is weighing a decision that could shift political power from urban to rural areas, which in many regions would benefit Republican candidates, Adam Liptak reports for The New York Times. The basic question in the "one person one vote" controversy "is who must be counted in creating voting districts: all residents or just eligible voters? Right now, all states and most localities count everyone."

"The difference matters because people who are not eligible to vote—children, immigrants here legally who are not citizens, unauthorized immigrants, people disenfranchised for committing felonies, prisoners—are not spread evenly across the country," Liptak writes. "With the exception of prisoners, they tend to be concentrated in urban areas. Their presence amplifies the voting power of eligible voters in those areas, usually helping Democrats. Rural areas that lean Republican, by contrast, usually have higher percentages of eligible voters."

The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, "a challenge to voting districts for the Texas Senate, was brought by Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, who asked the court to require states to count eligible voters," Liptak writes. "The case’s partisan overtones were not acknowledged during the argument, but the court’s four Democratic appointees asked questions suggesting that they generally favored counting everyone while several of the five Republican appointees said that voter equality was an important interest."

"The Constitution requires 'counting the whole number of persons in each state' for apportioning seats in the House of Representatives among the states," Liptak writes. But "the Supreme Court has never definitively ruled on who must be counted. The 'one person one vote' principle, rooted in cases from the 1960s that revolutionized democratic representation in the United States, applies to the entire American political system aside from the Senate, where voters from states with small populations have vastly more voting power than those with large ones. Everywhere else, voting districts must have very close to the same populations."

Evenwel and Pfenninger contend that "they lived in 'districts among the most overpopulated with eligible voters' and that 'there are voters or potential voters in Texas whose Senate votes are worth approximately one and one-half times that of appellants,'" Liptak writes. Their lawyer, William S. Consovoy, told Liptak, “One person can’t be given two votes while their neighbor is given one vote.”

Scott A. Keller, Texas’s solicitor general, defended his state’s decision to count everyone, telling Liptak, "The only question the court has to resolve here is whether the equal protection clause requires every state to change its current practice and use voter population to reapportion. The answer is no.” The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by June, 2016.

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