Democracy and Voting

  • July 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Alan B. Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service, George Washington University Law School

    *This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    When most people propose changes in our electoral system, they generally do so in order to achieve a political end, not because the change conforms to a platonic ideal of what elections should be like. So it is with the plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, which the Supreme Court will hear this fall. Their claim is that, when states draw their legislative districts, the Equal Protection Clause requires that they use the numbers of voters, instead of the number of people, as the basis for allocating seats within the states.

    The Supreme Court has ended the most blatant forms of gerrymandering and required legislative districts at both the state and federal level to be equal in composition within each state. The Court's rulings have been labeled "one person, one-vote," and the general assumption has been that, in dividing up each house by districts, the denominator has been the total population of the state.

    Evenwel challenges that assumption and argues that, because the goal of one person, one vote is to have each person's vote count the same as every other person's, the denominator should be total voters and not total population. If this were the law, the main groups that would no longer be counted are children, illegal immigrants, those not registered to vote, and felons who are precluded from voting. Until the actual lines are drawn for all the districts in a state, the results are not certain. But we do know that the backer of this lawsuit (Edward Blum) also supports Fisher v. University of Texas, which seeks the elimination of affirmative action in university admission. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that he believes that the change would have an adverse impact on minorities and their Democratic supporters, or at least it has that potential in some states, including Texas where the case was brought.

  • June 30, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Sean J. Young, Staff Attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project

    Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which preserved a vital weapon against partisan gerrymandering, a practice which artificially keeps the dominant political party in power regardless of popular will. The Court held that the Elections Clause of the Constitution, as well as a federal statute (2 U.S.C. § 2a(c)), permit the people of Arizona to use the initiative process to take the congressional redistricting process largely out of the hands of state legislators (those who benefit directly from the redistricting process), and to entrust that important process to an independent body. 

    As has been widely reported, the congressional redistricting process in many places has devolved into an anti-democratic procedure where politicians essentially decide who they want their voters to be. Using demographic models and projections of voting patterns calculated down to the neighborhood-level, districts can be drawn in such a way (often into odd-looking shapes) so as to virtually guarantee an electoral outcome. Both parties are guilty of this. Thus, for instance, in 2012, in states where Democrats controlled the process, their candidates won about 56 percent of the vote and 71 percent of the seats. In states where Republicans controlled the process, their candidates won roughly 53 percent of the vote but 72 percent of the seats.  As one politician has put it, “We are in the business of rigging elections.”

    Though courts have long recognized the anti-democratic nature of partisan gerrymandering, they have thus far been reluctant or unable to stop it. So in states like Arizona and California, the people themselves have taken action. Voter-passed initiatives in both states have put redistricting into the hands of independent commissions, which are required to adhere to neutral redistricting principles such as ensuring compactness and contiguity. Though imperfect, independent commissions have been an important weapon in the fight against partisan gerrymandering.

  • June 8, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Jerry Markon reports for The Washington Post that the White House has stopped work on its immigration program in response to numerous legal setbacks this year.

    At SalonHeather Digby Parton writes about the plot against the Affordable Care Act and the dire circumstances that would arise should the Court rule against the healthcare law. 

    Sarah Kliff of Vox takes a critical look at the GOP's five plans to fix the Affordable Care Act should the Supreme Court strikes down the law.

    At SlateMichael J. Socolow explains how television stations are the major winners of the Citizens United ruling. 

    Kenneth Jost considers at Jost on Justice Texas's challenge to the "one-person, one-vote" rule that the Supreme Court granted cert to late last month.



  • May 21, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Gene R. Nichol, the Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Poverty, Work & Opportunity, UNC School of Law

    It’s no easy feat to crown a favorite Abraham Lincoln quote. The heartfelt urging of “malice toward none … charity for all,” the challenge to ordain “a new birth of freedom,” the recognition that “our republican robe is soiled and trails in the dust,” the tapping of the “better angels of our nature’, and the “mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave.” Many could quickly nominate a dozen others.

    My own is less noted: “Allow all the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and that only, is self government.” [Though it is etched on the gallery walls at the Lincoln Memorial, our national temple of democracy.] The line comes from Lincoln’s 1854 Peoria address. Taking the national stage to decry Stephen Douglas’ repeal of the Missouri Compromise, Lincoln demanded, as Lewis Lehrman has written, that “the nation get right with the Declaration of Independence.” The defining portrait of democracy was the cornerstone, Lincoln reminded, of “our ancient faith.” It is the idea of America.     

    It would be hard to produce a stouter debasement of Lincoln’s sense of our national meaning than the recent parade of presidential hopefuls seeking audience, in humbled supplication, before a creepy and lengthening list of billionaire funders to secure meaningful entry into the 2016 race. The mega-buck primary is apparently more compelling, and decidedly more exclusive and demeaning, than the electoral one.  

    The Koch brothers have announced that a billion dollars is up for grabs for the candidate who pleases. Scott Walker reportedly has the inside track in what The New York Times calls the “Koch Primary.” But the mercurial pair has chosen to delay the purportedly outcome-bending announcement. Suspense, one supposes, augments the drama.

    When Sheldon Adelson let it slip that he was again in the market for a candidate, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Scott Walker rushed to Las Vegas to pay homage. The pageant was held, fittingly, in one of the Adelson casinos. The ever-belligerent Christie quickly apologized for prior statements about the Middle East. So much for tough-and-brutal talk. It is easy to see why. Adelson, who coughed up almost $100 million in 2012, suggested he’ll consider putting up serious money this time around. 

    Nor were others idle. Hedge Fund magnate Robert Mercer disclosed he will sponsor Ted Cruz. Rick Santorum, once again, will carry the colors of investment manager Foster Friess. Florida billionaire Norman Braham will provide at least ten million for Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush’s new super PAC, Right To Rise, will reportedly secure $100 million of individual and corporate donations by the end of May. The game is underway.

    The Democrats are no better – though they add a grotesque and habitual hypocrisy to the mix. 

  • February 18, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Ryan P. Haygood, Deputy Director of Litigation, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

    *This post is part of our two-week symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

    The history-making events of “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, ultimately freed the vote for millions of Black voters.  But 50 years later, as we commemorate the march that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we are also reminded that more than two million Black people continue to be denied the right to vote by one of the vestiges of American slavery.

    Black voter registration in Selma in 1965 was made virtually impossible by Alabama’s relentless efforts to block the Black vote, which included requiring Blacks to interpret entire sections of Alabama’s constitution, an impossible feat for even the most learned.  On one occasion, even a Black man who had earned a Ph.D. was unable to pass Alabama’s literacy test.

    On Bloody Sunday, John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams led almost 600 unarmed men, women and children in a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize to the nation their desire as Black people to participate in the political process.

    As they crossed the highest part of the bridge, the marchers were viciously attacked by Alabama state troopers, who ridiculed, tear-gassed, clubbed, spat on, whipped and trampled them with their horses.  In the end, Lewis’s skull was fractured by a state trooper’s nightstick, and 17 other marchers were hospitalized.

    In direct response to Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon Johnson five months later signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.  Considered by many to be the greatest victory of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act removed barriers, such as literacy tests, that had long kept Blacks from voting.

    Despite the promise of increased political participation by Black people and other people of color created by the Voting Rights Act, which twice led to the election of a Black president, its full potential has not been realized by one of the last excluded segments of our society: Americans with criminal convictions.

    Today, more than 5 million Americans are locked out of the political process by state felon disfranchisement laws that disqualify people with felony convictions from voting.

    The historical record reveals that to prevent newly freed Blacks from voting after the Civil War, many state legislatures in the North and South tailored their felon disfranchisement laws to require the loss of voting rights only for those offenses committed mostly by Black people.