Man Without Qualities

Thursday, October 16, 2003

One Voter, One Vote

For many years the Supreme Court has imposed a so-called "one person, one vote" requirement on most United States election apportionments. While "one person, one vote" has a nice sound to it, the results of this slogan are often perverse because not every person can vote. Legal and illegal aliens, many convicted felons (in many states) and children are the most obvious examples. One consequence of the "one person, one vote" rule is that voters in districts that also include a disproportionate number of people not eligible to vote enjoy disproportionate voting power. Indeed, the "one person, one vote" rule in principle allows for creation of standard sized election districts containing a tiny number of eligible voters.

A new study from the Center for Immigration Studies states that there are nearly 7 million illegal aliens and 12 million other non-citizens counted in the 2000 Census and that as a result of the interplay of the "one person, one vote" rule and recent immigration four states lost a congressional seat in 2000 because of illegal aliens and an additional five states lost a seat because of the presence of lawful non-citizens.

The "one person, one vote" rule has been paraphrased as expressing the fundamental principle that nobody's vote should count less than anybody else's just because of where the voter happens to live. But the "one person, one vote" rule itself is creating exactly that problem - in general and now in with respect to House apportionment. The simple fact is that a vote from a district in which few ineligible people reside will count less than a vote from a district that includes a lot of people ineligible to vote - just because of where the voters happen to live.

The Supreme Court should refine its "one person, one vote" rule to allow apportioning agencies (usually state legislatures) to create districts which include equal numbers of persons eligible to vote. That is, the correct rule should be "one voter, one vote" - not the increasingly perverse and internally inconsistent "one person, one vote" aberration.

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