GOP loses bid to say some Americans shouldn’t count
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham made an admission a few years ago that explains much of the Republican Party’s strategy when it comes to the rules that govern who votes, and who counts.
“We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party,” he said, noting the whipping the GOP took among the growing numbers of Hispanic voters, in particular, in the 2012 presidential election.
Graham said the only way to survive was to expand the party’s ideas – to find a path to accepting comprehensive immigration reform, for instance.
That didn’t really happen, and instead the GOP has pretty aggressively pursued ideas that would constrict voter access and participation to pinch down on the fastest-growing demographics, and on those that have traditionally been unfriendly to Republican candidates.
The idea has been, if you can’t beat them or join them, get them out of the game.
That’s where the push for Voter-ID laws comes from. Advocates would say that’s about voter fraud, a scary-sounding but factually rare threat to the democratic process. Those laws, however, increase the likelihood that poorer residents won’t cast ballots.
This is also where the pushback against the Voting Rights Act finds its roots. Republican lawmakers have drawn increasingly cynical maps that divide black and Hispanic voters in ways that make it unlikely for them to challenge white officeholders. Their efforts were rewarded by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 that released southern states from the restraints they faced as a result of their historic efforts at overt voting discrimination.
Now, the GOP strategy has gotten even more clever by going beyond voting itself to who counts in the way congressional and state legislative districts are drawn.
Texas Republicans, a few years ago, made an argument, novel in its approach, that when state legislatures (34 of which are in GOP hands right now) draw boundaries, they should be able to count “eligible” voters, rather than all voters. Counting all voters, the argument goes, violates the principle of “one person, one vote,” a bedrock of the Constitution’s democratic protections.
The aim here was simple: If lawmakers wanted to leave out illegal immigrants in the count to draw a congressional district so be it. Want to leave out children, or people with green cards trying to get citizenship, or felons who’ve lost the right to vote? No problem.
Counting this way would de-emphasize the importance of cities, which tend to ring up lots of Democratic votes, and give more power to rural areas that just so happen to be more inclined to vote for the GOP. It would be a counter-balance to the losing demographic battle the party is waging.
But far worse, and more indicative of the lowly and desperate state of the Republican politics, this was a naked attempt at disenfranchisement. Literally, an effort to say states can make certain people not count when the building blocks of our democracy are assembled.
Haven’t we heard this argument before? Isn’t it redolent of other historically embarrassing arguments over whose humanity can be dismissed with the bounds of our Constitution?
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the idea that the current way of counting – which includes everyone, in every state – is somehow unconstitutional.
Writing for the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted the Constitution’s deference to “population,” not voters, in its allocation of seats in the House of Representatives. And she said the way we count population for individual districts is not just about voting, but about representation. “As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote.”
The high court’s ruling settles the matter for now, but not definitively. The justices merely ruled that the current way of divining district boundaries is constitutional; it said nothing of hypothetical efforts to do it differently. So if Texas, or any other state, decides after the 2020 census to draw lines based on exclusion of certain people, it would take another court ruling to decide the constitutionality of that exercise.
But that’s part of the GOP strategy too. The challenge to the current regime was hyper-aggressive, and even in turning it away the court left some room for debate, or shenanigans. I’d not be the least bit surprised if at least one state tried to change the rules after 2020.
But the sad moral fiber of this entire line of Republican effort is clear. It’s to continue winning elections by changing the rules, and leaving some people out of the democratic process, rather than changing the party to better reflect a changing America.
It wouldn’t make me weep if that strain of Republicanism did, indeed, die.