Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Threat to Representation for Children and Non-Citizens: the Potential Impact of Evenwel v. Abbott on Redistricting

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could alter the way virtually all legislative districts in the United States are drawn. Set for hearing on December 8, 2015, the case of Evenwel vs. Abbott questions the use of the population equality standard to draw state legislative districts in Texas. The plaintiffs argued for the use of registered voters or potential voters (defined as voting age citizens) instead of the total population in a given district.

On November 5, 2014, the three judge court upheld the population equality standard for use in Texas, but the Supreme Court set the case for argument instead of simply affirming the appellate court opinion. This means that they plan to review the use of the population equality standard to draw districts, and could rule that the appropriate standard counts voters or potential voters instead of total
population. Presented here is an analysis of the impact the case could have on how districts are drawn and constituents are represented.

The population equality standard has been used by most jurisdictions since at least the 1970 redistricting round, so shifting to a standard of voters or potential voters would be a radical change. It would force substantial shifts in many redistricting plans because while the case concerns state legislatures, it could impact how districts from congressional down to city and county are drawn. The change would also have the effect of diminishing the representation of children (those under 18) and non-citizens.

This report assesses the impact of using an eligible voter equality standard on the current congressional and state legislative districts using the same materials that would have been available at the time redistricting was done.

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