Thursday, January 14, 2016

We, (some of) the people: Supreme Court case raises questions on electoral representation

This article was originally published in the Viet Tide on Jan. 1, 2016. It was written by Ness white and has been updated, edited accordingly.

Readers are probably aware that Republicans and Democrats have been historically and ideologically divided on a number of issues. What readers might not know is that a recently heard Supreme Court case could not only prove to keep that divide in tact, but it could pit the two parties more strongly against each other just in time for the scheduled 2022 mid-terms elections.

On Dec. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the Evenwel vs. Abbott case regarding redistricting in Texas. Redistricting is done after the U.S. Census is taken every 10 years and is meant to ensure that local, state and federal voting districts are created for all Americans to be fairly represented as populations increase, decrease, shift and change. The plaintiffs -- Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger -- are arguing that only registered voters should be considered when redistricting lines are redrawn, not the currently used total populations. They argue against the State of Texas that considering the total population when redrawing districts makes districts with large populations of non-voters more electorally powerful than districts with smaller populations of more eligible voters.

The case could impact urban cities, where Democrats tend to be localized, critics have said, as these areas tend to have higher populations of non-voters. If these districts were redrawn to reflect eligible voters rather than total population, could Republicans see some gains?

Who are the eligible voters? Are there ineligible ones?

Evenwel and Pfenninger argue that non-residents, undocumented immigrants and children are among those who should not be counted in redistricting tallies, as they are not eligible to vote. All others who are eligible to vote should be counted.

However, as media outlets have sporadically reported over the past few years, there are obstacles that can keep people from registering to vote -- which is required for anyone to become an eligible voter -- and obstacles that can keep people from remaining recognized as eligible voters. For example, registered voters in Indiana who are considered to be inactive are stripped from voter rolls; and in Tennessee, voters who have been deemed potential non-citizens by a database check are required to prove they are citizens in order to register to vote.

Obtaining the required documents for such proof can be costly, time-consuming and inconvenient --
similar to what critics have said about voter ID laws, which require voters to present state-issued, photo ID in order to vote. Several states, including Texas, have implemented such laws, which have been considered to disproportionately impact lower-income individuals who depend on public services and transportation -- namely people of color, language minorities, women, young people, the elderly and those considered disabled. These people also tend to be located collectively in larger, urban cities and vote Democrat.

Is the Evenwel vs. Abbott case currently awaiting decision in the Supreme Court an extension of the voter ID push that the Republican Party has been a part of since at least 2011? While Republicans -- including 2016 presidential candidates -- supporting the IDs have argued they decrease voter fraud, Democrats have argued they keep people who would otherwise be considered eligible from voting.

In other words, such laws could be considered to make certain voters ineligible -- therefore keeping them from being part of the eligible voter pool that would be counted if the plaintiffs in the Evenwel vs. Abbott case win.

But, do the plaintiffs have a case? Should marginalized groups of eligible voters have their voices silenced or not well heard because their representatives are working on behalf of a larger population that did not even vote for them?

The high court is not expected to decide the case for months, though the court of public opinion could begin ruling at any time.

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