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“The Goal Is To Limit Representation”: The Conservatives Who Gutted The Voting Rights Act Are Now Challenging ‘One Person, One Vote’

Ed Blum, who brought the case that led to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, is now going after the historic principle of “one person, one vote.” The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to hear Evenwel v. Abbott, Blum’s latest case, which challenges the drawing of state Senate districts in Texas. The obscure case could have major ramifications for political representation.

Blum first began attacking the Voting Rights Act after losing a Houston congressional race to a black Democrat in 1992 and founded the Project on Fair Representation in 2005 to challenge the constitutionality of the VRA. The Evenwel case doesn’t deal directly with the VRA but on how districts should be calculated. Since the Supreme Court’s 1964 Reynolds v. Sims decision, districts have been drawn based on the total population of an area. Blum instead wants lines to be drawn based only on eligible voters—excluding children, inmates, non-citizens, etc. from counting toward representation.

If that happened, legislative districts would become older, whiter, more rural, and more conservative, rather than younger, more diverse, more urban, and more liberal. “It would be a power shift almost perfectly calibrated to benefit the Republican party,” explains University of Texas law professor Joey Fishkin. “The losers would be urban areas with lots of children and lots of racially diverse immigrants. The winners would be older, whiter, more suburban, and rural areas. It would be a power shift on a scale American redistricting law has not seen since the 1960s. While not nearly as dramatic as the original reapportionment revolution, it would require every map in every state to be redrawn, with the same general pattern of winners and losers.”

Demographically, the gap between Republicans and Democrats is wider than it has ever been. “House Republicans are still 87 percent white male, compared to 43 percent of House Democrats—the widest gap we’ve ever seen,” explains Dave Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report. “In terms of composition of districts, the median GOP district is 76% white, while the median Dem district is 49% white—again, the widest gap we’ve ever seen. Overall, the median House district is 68% white, compared to 63% for the nation as a whole.”

This representation gap explains why Republican officials are pushing new voting restrictions like voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, which disproportionately impact minority voters and seek to make the electorate smaller and whiter. A victory for Blum’s side in Evenwel would make districts across the country even less representative of the country as a whole.

Blum claims to be fighting for race neutrality but he’s often done the bidding of the most powerful figures in the conservative movement and Republican Party. As I reported in 2013:

His Project on Fair Representation is exclusively funded by Donors Trust, a consortium of conservative funders that might be the most influential organization you’ve never heard of. Donors Trust doled out $22 million to a Who’s Who of influential conservative groups in 2010, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafted mock voter ID laws and a raft of controversial state-based legislation; the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Koch brothers’ main public policy arm…Donors Trust has received seven-figure donations from virtually every top conservative donor, including $5.2 million since 2005 from Charles Koch’s Knowledge and Progress Fund. (The structure of Donors Trust allows wealthy conservative donors like Koch to disguise much of their giving.)

From 2006 to 2011, Blum received $1.2 million from Donors Trust, which allowed him to retain the services of Wiley Rein, the firm that unsuccessfully defended Ohio’s and Florida’s attempts to restrict early voting in federal court last year. As a “special program fund” of the tax-exempt Donors Trust, Blum’s group does not have to disclose which funders of Donors Trust are giving him money, but he has identified two of them: the Bradley Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust. The Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation paid for billboards in minority communities in Milwaukee during the 2010 election with the ominous message “Voter Fraud Is a Felony!”, which voting rights groups denounced as voter suppression. Both Bradley and Searle have given six-figure donations to ALEC in recent years, and Bradley funded a think tank in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute, that hyped discredited claims of voter fraud to justify the state’s voter ID law.

The challenge in Evenwel isn’t so different from the gutting of the VRA or new laws restricting voting rights. The goal is to limit representation, make it harder for some to participate in the political process and to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.

CORRECTION: Blum says, “The Project on Fair Representation hasn’t been affiliated with Donors Trust for nearly 6 months; we are now a 501 (c) (3) so our donors will be disclosed according to the regulations that apply to all public charities.”

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, May 28, 2015

May 30, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Ed Blum, Evenwel v Abott, Redistricting | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Person, One Vote? Not Exactly

Two economists, Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff, set out a few years ago to determine how much Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states affected presidential nominations.

Mr. Knight and Mr. Schiff analyzed daily polls in other states before and after an early state had held a contest. The polls tended to change immediately after the contest, and the changes tended to last, which suggested that the early states were even more important than many people realized. The economists estimated that an Iowa or New Hampshire voter had the same impact as five Super Tuesday voters put together.

This system, the two men drily noted in a Journal of Political Economy paper, “represents a deviation from the democratic ideal of ‘one person, one vote.’ ”

A presidential campaign is once again upon us, and Iowa and New Hampshire are again at the center of it all. On Thursday, Mitt Romney will announce his candidacy in Stratham, N.H. Last week, Tim Pawlenty opened his campaign in Des Moines. The two states have dominated the nominating process for so long that it’s easy to think of their role as natural.

But it is not natural. It’s undemocratic, in fact. It is unfair to voters in the other 48 states. And it distorts economic policy in several damaging ways.

Most obviously, the federal government has lavished subsidies on ethanol, even though those subsidies drive up food prices and do little to solve the climate problem, partly because candidates pander to the Iowa corn industry. (Mr. Pawlenty, who now says the subsidies must end, is an admirable exception.) Beyond ethanol, a recent peer-reviewed study found that early-voting states received more federal dollars after a competitive election — so long as they supported the winning candidate.

Pork is hardly the only problem with the voting calendar. In the long run-up to the first votes, Iowa and New Hampshire also distort the national conversation because they are so unrepresentative. They are not better or worse than other states, to be clear. But they are different.

Their populations are growing more slowly than the rest of the country’s. Residents of Iowa and New Hampshire are more likely to have health insurance. They are older than average. They are more likely to work in manufacturing.

Above all, Iowa and New Hampshire lack a single big city, at a time when large metropolitan areas are crucial to lifting economic growth. Big metro areas are where big ideas most often take shape and great new companies are most often born. The country’s 25 largest areas are responsible for 52 percent of the country’s economic output, according to the Brookings Institution, and are home to 42 percent of the population.

Yet metro areas are also struggling with major problems. The quality of schools is spotty. Commutes last longer than ever. Roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are aging.

You don’t hear much about these issues in the first year of a presidential campaign, though. No wonder. Iowa, New Hampshire and the next two states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina, do not have a single city among the country’s 25 largest. Las Vegas, the 30th-largest metro area, and the Boston suburbs that stretch into New Hampshire are the closest these states come.

So the presidential calendar becomes another cause of what Edward Glaeser, a conservative-leaning Harvard economist, calls our “anti-urban policy bias.” Suburbs and rural areas receive vastly more per-person federal largess than cities. One big reason, of course, is the structure of the Senate: the 12 million residents of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have eight United States senators among them, while the 81 million residents of California, New York and Texas have only six.

Bruce Katz, a Brookings vice president and veteran of Democratic administrations, points out that the world’s other economic powers take their cities more seriously. China, in particular, has made urban planning a central part of its economic strategy.

“The United States stands apart as an anti-urban nation in an urbanizing world,” Mr. Katz told me. “Our political tilt toward small states and small towns, in presidential campaigns and the governing that follows, is not only a quaint relic of an earlier era but a dangerous distraction at a time when national prosperity depends on urban prosperity.”

The typical defense from Iowa and New Hampshire is that they care more about politics than the rest of us and therefore do a better job vetting candidates. But the intense 2008 race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showed that if Iowa and New Hampshire care more, it’s only because of their privileged status. In 2008, turnout soared in states that finally had a primary that mattered, be it Indiana or Texas, North Carolina or Rhode Island.

A more democratic system would allow more voters to see the candidates up close for months at a time. The early states could rotate each year, so that all kinds — big states and small, younger and older, rural and urban — had a turn. In 2016, the first wave could include states that have voted near the end recently, like Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon and South Dakota.

A rotation along these lines would enliven the political debate. Investments in science and education, which are the lifeblood of future economic growth, might play a bigger role in the campaign. You could even imagine — optimistically, I know — that the deficit might prove easier to address if Medicare and Social Security recipients did not make up such a disproportionate share of early voters.

The issues particular to small-town America would still receive extra attention because so many of the 50 states are rural and sparsely populated. It’s just that Iowa and New Hampshire would no longer receive the extreme special treatment they now do.

And that special treatment is a nice thing, indeed. It focuses the entire country, and its next leader, on the concerns of only 1 percent of the population, as if democracy were supposed to work that way.

At a recent candidates’ forum in Des Moines, The Wall Street Journal reported, the moderator did something that seemed perfectly normal: She chided Mr. Romney for not having spent enough time in Iowa lately. “Where have you been?” she asked.

How do you think the rest of us feel?

 

By: David Leonhardt, Economic Scene, The New York Times, May 31, 2011

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Democracy, Elections, Government, Health Care, Iowa Caucuses, Medicare, Politics, Social Security, States, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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