If states’ representation in Congress were tied to their number of eligible voters rather than their total population, Texas would have four fewer House representatives and California six. Both states have millions of non-citizen residents and a disproportionate share of people younger than 18. Fortunately for Texas and California, the principle of political equality written into the Constitution’s 14th Amendment expressly recognizes that a state’s representation in the House should be based on its total population, not the number of its eligible voters alone. “The fundamental principle of representative government is one of equal representation for equal numbers of people,” the Supreme Court has said. But is this “fundamental principle” somehow wrong when states design their own legislatures? In the “one person, one vote” case before the Supreme Court, two voters from Texas argue that it is.
The plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott insist that the Constitution requires equal numbers of eligible voters, not people, across election districts. They do not challenge the design of the House of Representatives, of course; the Constitution’s text settles that issue. But they argue that, when states draw their own election districts, the Constitution forbids them from relying on the same principle of political representation that the Constitution requires for the House.
Currently, every state designs its election districts according to the same understanding of political equality that the Constitution applies to the House of Representatives: States aim to equalize the number of people across districts, not the number of eligible voters.