Almost everyone in the voting rights community agrees that the unexpected case challenging long-held assumptions about the concept of “one person, one vote” — which is being heard by the Supreme Court next week — could have devastating consequences. But a point of contention among experts is what threat a more incremental decision poses to the already crippled Voting Rights Act. The case is called Evenwel v. Abbott. It is coming out of Texas, where the challengers are contesting the state legislature’s senate redistricting plan. At issue is whether the use of total population to draw districts — as Texas and other states have near universally done — is unconstitutional. The challengers suggest that some other metric — perhaps one that counts districts by citizens or by eligible voters — is preferable. They say their votes have been diluted because they live in a district that has a higher percentage of eligible voters compared to district that is roughly the same size in total population, but has a lower rate of voter eligibility — in part because of the presence of Latino noncitizens.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the challengers wholeheartedly, the case is poised to upend not just Texas’ redistricting plan but could cause chaos in other areas where districts have a relatively high number of non-eligible voters, which include not just undocumented immigrants, but children, prisoners, and in some places ex-felons. The challenge is being treated by civil rights advocates as an attempt to undermine the growing political power of left-leaning minorities, while undermining the fundamental idea that representation should be based on the number of people a politician represents, rather than those eligible to vote for him.
“That notion has become so deeply embedded in consciousness, it’s become very hard for people to think that it’s under attack in Evenwel,” said Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which had sought to intervene in the case when it was at the lower court.