A case before the Supreme Court raises an esoteric but important question: Who do politicians represent? Our Amber Phillips has a thorough explanation of the ins-and-outs of the case. But the essential question is whether political districts should be drawn based on the number of people that live in the district, or based on the number of people in that district that can vote. The idea is that in districts where there are a lot of people but not a lot of eligible voters, those voters are more powerful given that they can have a larger effect on the outcome of any given election. It doesn’t take long to see all sorts of questions that the distinction draws. Should we count people who can vote or people who do vote? How does that shift the priorities of the official who wins the right to represent the district?
What might not be as obvious is that the effect of broad switch to focus on possible voters would be large. In order to be able to vote, you need to meet three criteria: 1) You must be a citizen, 2) you must be over 18 years old and 3) you must not have had your right to vote rescinded, say for a felony conviction. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey calculates the number of people across the United States who meet the first two standards. And we can use that data to get a picture of the places in which the largest percentage of the population can’t actually cast a ballot.