“One person, one vote.” It’s a small phrase that may have a big impact on the power of your vote. The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a case challenging the state of Texas’s interpretation of the phrase.
To Texas, it means that its voting districts should be comprised of an equal number of residents, regardless of whether those residents are citizens and, therefore, can vote. To Sue Evenwel and Ed Pfenniger, the voters challenging the system in Texas, “one person, one vote” is a mandate to have equal number of citizens in the voting districts of the Lone Star State.
You see, Evenwel and Pfenniger live in areas with a high citizen population. They did the math and realized that the votes of citizens in other districts were worth approximately one and a half times the value of their own. This is because those other districts have more noncitizen residents, each of which is included in Texas’s voting district calculations. And when the pool of eligible voters decreases, the value of each vote in that pool increases.
Why should you care about this case even if you’re not a Texan?
Evenwel and Pfenniger presented population charts to the Court illustrating how Texas’s plan dilutes their votes. For those of us who avoid complicated charts, they provided another illustration of why the Supreme Court’s review was needed: “Under the district court’s reasoning, the Texas Legislature could have adopted a Senate map containing 31 districts of equal total population without violating the one-person, one-vote principle—even if 30 of the districts each contained one voter and the 31st district contained all other voters in the State. That cannot be correct.”
In short, votes are being diluted and it might be happening to you, especially if you live in a state with a high immigrant population.
Why wouldn’t Texas want to make sure there were an equal number of voters in every district? One argument is that the necessary citizenship data is simply not available. But the data is available, in the U.S. Census’s American Community Surveys.
In court, Census data is presumed valid. And, notably, the U.S. Department of Justice uses citizenship voting age population data to evaluate violations of federal law, including in the redistricting context. My firm, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, will submit a friend of the court brief next month outlining how often the U.S. Department of Justice relies on this citizenship data in cases around the country. Indeed, it finds the data reliable enough to form a basis for violations of the Voting Rights Act.
Texas itself relied upon the American Community Surveys along with its own voter registration information to calculate its citizenship population as part of its redistricting efforts. Yet, despite these efforts, it chose to use total population numbers instead.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court will hear the case next fall, with a decision shortly thereafter. As the Court has said before, “Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”
Kaylan L. Phillips is an attorney with the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting and restoring election integrity.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.