“One person, one vote?” SCOTUS hears arguments in two cases that could affect voting districts nationwide

Evenwel v. Abbott

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in two cases that involve issues that could impact voting in the U.S. The first was Evenwel v. Abbott, out of Texas, which involved an analysis of the “one person, one vote” methodology currently in place for apportioning legislative districts.  Voting districts are currently generally drawn by taking the total population of a state, dividing that by the number of seats available and creating voting districts with mostly equal numbers of people.

According to SCOTUS Blog, challengers to this system in Texas assert that districts should actually be based on the number of eligible voters, not the total population, arguing that districts with a small number of eligible voters but large overall population have too much power under the current system. Proponents of the existing “one person, one vote” system argue that everyone in a district will be represented by the elected official and should be entitled to consideration in creating districts.

It was unclear from arguments how the court’s decision will come out, but details about how changing the system would work from a practical matter were of concern. States currently use census data to create districts, but this only includes information about total population and not eligible voters. USA Today offers analysis of the arguments, here.

Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

The second voting case is another case involving redistricting in Arizona. Last June the court found that Arizona could appoint an independent commission to redistrict congressional districts without violating the Constitution. According to SCOTUS Blog, A group of Arizona voters opposed to the system has now brought another challenge to the court, arguing that the commission was not, in fact, non-partisan and that it redistricted in a way that violated principles of "one person, one vote," by putting too many people in a Republican-leaning district and too few in a Democratic one. This, they argue, dilutes the power of those in an over-populated district.

The commission and the federal government argue that partisanship was not a significant factor in drawing districts. They assert that districts can be over or underpopulated, deviating from the "ideal population" by up to 10%, and that any deviation was under 9% in Arizona.

The commission asserted that the reason for drawing districts that were not equal in terms of population number was a good faith attempt to comply with the Voting Rights Act and get preclearance from the Department of Justice for the new districts. This issue received a lot of attention during arguments, according to SCOTUS Blog. Opponents argued that the districts could have been drawn equally and that the state still would have gotten preclearance for the redistricting plan under the VRA, but some justices expressed skepticism.

There were also arguments briefed about whether the commission's actions were appropriate, since the court had ruled Arizona no longer needed to get preclearance under the VRA in 2013, but SCOTUS Blog reports that this got little traction during oral arguments. See more from NBC News about the arguments, here.

Depending on the outcome of these two cases, there may be significant changes to the way voting districts are drawn nationwide.

Photo credit: Hadley Paul Garland via Flickr.