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The “One Person, One Vote” Debate

Jan 27

It seems that the closer we get to an election (especially a presidential election), the more people begin arguing about the mechanics of vote-casting. True to form, as we approach 2016, the debates and court cases are in full swing. Many times, these arguments are just political banter and not given much real consideration. One particular case before the United States Supreme Court, however, may have a serious impact on voting.

Recently, the Supreme Court seemed ready to order a significant shift in how voting election districts are mapped throughout the country. On November 8, 2015, the Court heard arguments that could result in a ruling which requires all 50 states to change the way they draw election districts for members of the House of Representatives, state legislatures, city councils and other local bodies. This decision would have a great impact on many elections.

From the United State’s creation, our founding fathers based our government on the “one person, one vote” principle. In other words, in order to form a government of the people, and to insure that everyone was represented in government, each citizen should have a vote, and that vote should count equally with all the other votes. Because of our vast population, however, most elections are decided by each individual vote, but by a collective of votes in “election districts.” The inevitable problem is that throughout American history corrupt lawmakers have tried to manipulate these election districts in a way beneficial to themselves or their political party.

Literally from day one, election district manipulation has resulted in heated debates and scores of lawsuits. In early American history, the major goal was to prevent election districts from being drawn by land area, which would result in rural districts with less population always being dominated by urban districts with greater population. Later, especially after the civil war, election districts were constantly manipulated and drawn by racial lines. Many Supreme Court decisions have been cast and many laws have been created over the years to combat this problem.

At issue before the court now is the basic question of who gets counted when election districts are drawn: Is it all people, including children, prisoners and immigrants who are not eligible to vote? Or is it only adult citizens who are eligible voters?

The Plaintiffs, two Texas Republicans who live in rural districts, say they are denied the “equal protection of the laws” because the state’s election districts undercount the votes of U.S. citizens and overcount those who live in districts with large numbers of immigrants. For example, of two Texas state Senate districts, both with 800,000 residents, one had about 574,000 citizens who are eligible to vote and the other had only 372,000 people who are eligible to vote. Although these two districts have equal numbers of people they definitely do not have an equal numbers of voters. The Plaintiffs argue that the court should clarify its “one person, one vote” rule and tell states they should give “equal weight to equal numbers of voters.”

If the US Supreme Court agrees with the Plaintiffs, election districts across the nation will be recalculated and redrawn. Because many of the immigrant districts are traditionally democratic, republicans are expecting an advantage in future elections if election districts are reorganized.