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US Supreme Court decision could reduce guaranteed representation

  • Author: Casey Steinau
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published December 6, 2015

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Evenwel v. Abbot. This is more than a Texas redistricting case. It is a fundamental challenge to our democracy. The outcome could force states to leave out large segments of their populations when drawing legislative districts every 10 years simply because they cannot currently vote. As a result, anyone who isn't a voter, including every child and minor under 18, would be invisible for purposes of representation. Everyone should be counted in our democracy, which is why the U.S. Constitution requires it when drawing congressional districts. State legislative districts should also count everyone.

It comes as no surprise that the purpose of this case is to undercount young people and minorities simply because of their political leanings. The plaintiff, Sue Evenwel, who brought the case to court is a Texas Republican Party leader working with a group that has aggressively attacked affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act in recent years. Evenwel's position and the case are so extreme, not only are they opposed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, he is the defendant in the lawsuit.

In an attempt to win more elections, conservatives have mounted coordinated attacks on fair representation and access to our democracy. They've shown this through gerrymandered districts, suing to end contribution limits which gives the wealthy a stronger voice, working to define corporations as people, and restrictive voter ID laws. This latest attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters across the country is especially egregious.

Instead of representing all of the people, elected officials would effectively ignore millions of people living in their jurisdictions simply because they can't vote. These are children who go to our schools and hard-working men and women who pay the taxes that pave our roads and build our infrastructure, all with no voice. To ignore them when creating legislative districts is to disenfranchise the very people we've fought so hard to include in our democracy over the past five decades. Young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans all disproportionately suffer if Sue Evenwel gets her way.

According to an analysis by Andrew A. Beveridge of Social Explorer, using American Community Survey data, in Alaska approximately 185,000 young people under 18 could be disenfranchised – including 48 percent who are young women. Fortunately, Alaska has joined 20 other states in filing a brief against Evenwel's suit and in support of our position to, in large part, protect rural representation. According to the brief, "The population in two rural house districts is approximately 37% children compared with less than 20% in several urban districts."

Interestingly, the court has previously ruled minors may influence the political process by making political contributions, and it is absurd they would have to buy representation, because it is not theirs as a right. Legal permanent residents who have spent years in their communities are also able to contribute to political candidates, so leaving them uncounted and denying them representation makes no sense.

Everyone in America deserves equal representation. Any effort to undermine this notion weakens our democracy, and we will oppose it. Even if someone can't vote, they are still members of our community and that is why so many nongovernmental and civil rights organizations have filed "friend of the court" briefs with the Supreme Court.

The final ruling on this case will likely be reported in the spring or early summer of 2016. We must remain as vigilant as ever in the face of such egregious attacks on our democracy. We will not silently sit back and let conservative activists with an extreme agenda erase the very foundation of our democracy.

Casey Steinau, vice chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, lives in Big Lake.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com.

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