One Person, One Vote? Or One American, One Vote?

April 12, 2016 | PFIR

Supreme Court justices just unanimously agreed that states can count immigrants and illegal aliens for population purposes when determining voting districts. The 8-0 ruling in Evenwel v. Abbott dilutes millions of American citizens’ voting power.

Fortunately, the court left the door open to redistricting reforms that won’t unfairly empower sanctuary cities or municipalities with lots of non-citizens.

The case stems from a disagreement over the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, which requires states to create roughly equal voting districts. Prior to the enforcement of that clause in the 1960s, states routinely packed large numbers of minority voters into single districts, while creating other largely white districts with far fewer people. That gave voters in the sparsely populated districts a greater say in government.

However, the courts never clarified whether states must equally divide districts based on total residents — as every state currently does — or based on total residents eligible to vote.

That’s an important distinction. Consider two hypothetical districts, each containing 1 million people. If half the people in District A are non-citizens, children, or felons, and every person in District B is a U.S. citizen over 18 with no serious criminal record, then District A would have 500,000 eligible voters and District B would have 1 million.

A voter in District A would be twice as influential as one in District B.

Such imbalances dilute the power of voters in citizen-heavy districts and empower areas with lots of foreign nationals. In New York City, for instance, 21 percent of the voting age population are noncitizens.

The plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott argued that the ‘total resident’ method violates the Equal Protection Clause — but the justices disagreed.

However, they pointedly didn’t rule out the possibility of counting only eligible voters. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in the majority opinion that “a State or locality may draw its legislative districts based on total population.” Justice Thomas clarified that “The Constitution does not prescribe any one basis for apportionment within the States.”

Justice Alito even predicted that the issue will likely arise again “when we have before us a state districting plan” that apportions representatives based on the number of eligible voters rather than total population.

Such a plan would undoubtedly be challenged in the courts. But if the Supreme Court rules that the ‘total residents eligible to vote’ method is also constitutional, then states could draw districts that treat all citizens fairly.

Indeed, such reforms are vital to ensure that sanctuary cities harboring large numbers of illegal aliens don’t wield outsized influence.

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