December 7, 2015 - 10:22 pm
Today the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Evenwel v. Abbott. On its face, this is just another redistricting case, but a closer look reveals a dangerous attack on how our democracy works.
The case could change how state legislative districts are calculated, from total population to citizens of voting age. That would force Nevada and states across the country to leave out large segments of their populations when drawing legislative districts simply because they are not currently eligible to vote.
Children, legal permanent residents and others currently unable to vote would not be counted. These are kids who go to our schools. These are hardworking men and women who pay taxes and help our community thrive. For the purposes of political representation, they would be invisible.
Imagine what it would mean for funding for our schools or our roads if we excluded minors and pretended they just didn’t exist. It would be ludicrous.
The plaintiff, Sue Evenwel, is a leader in the Texas Republican Party, and the motivations behind this lawsuit are abundantly clear: undercounting young people and minorities who tend to support Democrats will help Republicans win elections. Not surprisingly, Evenwel is working with a group that has fought aggressively against affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act in recent years.
If the Supreme Court makes the wrong decision, our political maps will be redrawn in a highly partisan manner to increase the power of Republican-leaning voters. Young people, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans will all disproportionately suffer.
A new analysis finds that this could limit representation for more than 930,000 Nevadans. That includes an estimated 660,829 Nevadans under the age of 18, including 58,450 African-Americans and 251,949 Hispanics. To be clear, that means it would affect 99 percent of Hispanic-Americans who are U.S.-born citizens and under 18. This also affects hundreds of thousands of legal permanent residents and undocumented immigrants who call Nevada home but are not eligible to vote.
As elected officials, we have a responsibility to serve all of our constituents. In Senate District 1, 50,921 people – 38 percent of constituents – would lose their political representation. In Senate District 11, 48,133 people – 36 percent of constituents – would not be represented anymore.
Every single person in our community deserves to be counted in our democracy. Even if they can’t vote, these are people whose lives are significantly impacted by the politicians who represent them and the policies we enact. To ignore these people when creating legislative districts would disenfranchise the very people we have fought so hard to include in our democracy.
Since our nation was founded, we have always counted those unable to vote at the time – such as women, children, persons without property, noncitizens and convicts. It is required in the U.S. Constitution for the apportionment of congressional districts. Even when egregious concepts like denying women the right to vote and counting African-Americans as three-fifths of a person were the norm, nobody ever denied their existence for the purposes of political representation.
While we have made great progress since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law 50 years ago, our country is in the midst of a nationally coordinated right-wing effort to limit who has access to our democracy and power at the ballot box. Make no mistake: the Evenwel v. Abbott case is an insidious new development in this trend.
Equal representation is at the heart of American democracy. Eliminating the principle of “one person, one vote” undermines this vital principle. It is a shameful, cynical strategy for winning elections that is out of touch with our values. We cannot sit back in silence and let our progress be erased.
Minority Leader Aaron Ford, a Democrat, represents Las Vegas’ District 11 in the Nevada Senate. Pat Spearman, a Democrat, represents North Las Vegas’ District 1 in the Nevada Senate.