The Battle Over "One Person, One Vote," Has Just Begun

Article author: 
Carl Klarner, Daniel A. Smith
Article publisher: 
The American Prospect
Article date: 
18 April 2016
Article category: 
Our American Future
Article Body: 

The Supreme Court's Evenwel v. Abbott ruling is not the final word in the debate over equal representation, and some states will resort to ballot initiatives to win the right to draw district lines based on population alone.

After the Supreme Court’s politically consequential decision in Evenwel v. Abbott this month, supporters of the principle of “one-person, one vote” breathed a sigh of relief. The Court unanimously ruled that states may continue to draw legislative districts based on total population, instead of on a new standard—the number of registered or eligible voters—that would have excluded non-citizen immigrants, youth under 18, people who are or were incarcerated, and anyone else not registered to vote.
The ruling stymied a challenge brought by conservative activists in Texas who set out to upend the practice of apportioning legislative districts based on population, which had been settled law for five decades. A ruling in the challengers’ favor could have triggered mass redrawing of legislative district lines around the country, most likely to the advantage of Republicans.
The decision did mark a victory for the principle of “one-person, one-vote” if only because it maintains the status quo. But the Evenwel decision will likely not be the final word on the matter. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion explicitly stated that the Court did not “resolve whether, as Texas now argues, states may draw districts to equalize voter-eligible population rather than total population.” And conservatives can be expected to keep pushing for ways to exclude certain blocs of voters from the redistricting process—particularly non-citizens...
In a broad sense, Republicans stand to gain from a redistricting process based on eligible voters instead of on population alone. Excluding children and non-citizens from reapportionment clearly benefits Republicans, as one of the authors of this piece, political scientist Carl Klarner, has shown...
... we suspect (at least in these Trumpian times) that a motion to exclude non-citizens from districting counts would be particularly popular with large majorities of Southwestern voters...
Where will this happen? The state legislatures in both Colorado and Nevada are highly competitive, and both states have the ballot initiative option. Our analysis of the partisan impact of excluding non-citizens from districting counts puts Nevada at the top of the list, with more than a 2.5 percent seat advantage for Republicans. The impact in Colorado would be much smaller, but still significant...