CA Advocates Cheer

“One Person One Vote” Decision
Voting-rights advocates are praising the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the way state legislative districts are drawn. (jdurham/morguefile)

Suzanne Potter / California News Service

SAN FRANCISCO – Voting-rights advocates are celebrating Monday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm the concept of “one person, one vote,” rejecting attempts to change the way state legislative districts are drawn.

In the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, the plaintiff argued that the districts should all have an equal number of voters, as opposed to an equal number of people.

But Kathay Feng, California director of the watchdog group Common Cause, says that would exclude anyone who doesn’t vote – including children, people who are in prison, undocumented, or waiting for citizenship papers to go through.

“To count only those people who are registered voters would exclude tens of millions of people from representation,” Feng says. “It would distort the way that districts are drawn.”

The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco signed a legal brief in the case supporting what the court ultimately decided.

Legislative district population numbers are used for representation in state government and on regional boards for water and air quality. They also help determine how much money is allocated for such services as public safety, roads and schools.

Feng warns that urban areas, with more nonvoters like children and immigrants, would be shortchanged if districts are drawn based on numbers of voters.

“Those people who are most commonly registered don’t represent the population as a whole,” she says. “They do tend to be people who are homeowners, who are more educated, who are white.”

Feng also argues that a system based on voter rolls could give politicians the incentive to ignore large swaths of their constituents and even work to exclude people they think might not support their campaigns.