Here’s How A Supreme Court Case Could Change Voting Districts

Evenwel vs. Abbott could transform how we draw districts for political representation.

By Alain StephensNovember 27, 2015 9:37 am,

In just a few days, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in Evanwel vs. Abbott. The case, filed back when Gov. Greg Abbott was still the Attorney General of Texas, challenges the state and current standards of drawing voting districts. The plaintiff is arguing that the state should only count eligible voters, not the total population, when it looks at areas of representation. Some critics of the suit say this could significantly affect political representation, especially for minorities. Some, like New York City, have joined in the discussion.

Ari Berman, author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” has been following this case. He says you could tie a direct line from this case back to the battle for voting rights back in the mid-60s. His book begins with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

“But it was the ‘One person, one vote’ cases – a series of cases that came before the passage of the Voting Rights Act – and in some ways laid the ground work,” he says. “Before these cases… you had districts that varied wildly by size. You could have a district in one place with a million people, and then you could have a district nearby with 14,000 people. And districts were largely rural in orientation, and largely white.”

Many people were denied political representation because of how the lines were drawn back then, Berman says. It was the “One person, one vote” cases of the and the Voting Rights Act that changed that landscape. Evanwel vs. Abbott has the potential to change not just Texas’ districts, but the national landscape as well, Berman says.

“It’s one of these very obscure cases that could have major ramifications,” Berman says. “If districts were redrawn – not based on total population, like every district is now, but based on eligible voters or registered voters – first, you could talk about redrawing many many many districts. Literally every single district in the country could have to be redrawn. I don’t think it will come to that, but I think it’s a possibility.”

Berman says secondly, there would be a major power shift.

“The people that would not be counted would be children, undocumented and documented immigrants who are not American citizens, potentially people who are disenfranchised because of felony convictions or other voting restrictions,” Berman says. “These are people more likely to live in urban areas, they are more likely – if they could vote – to identify with the Democratic Party. They’re more likely to live in heavily minority areas. So it would be a shift away from urban, minority-diverse districts to more rural, more conservative and wider districts.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.