The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Evenwel v. Abbott, a case challenging the inclusion of all residents of the country- both voters and nonvoters- in drawing state legislative election districts. This case challenges the very underpinnings of “one person/one vote” to include all persons counted by the Census Bureau, a practice in place since the Court’s first major redistricting cases dating back to the early 1960s after Baker v. Carr.
The outcome in Evenwel could have ramifications across the nation, including the redrawing of New York State’s state legislative districts and local legislative districts before 2020. In this case coming from Texas, the plaintiffs try to make the case that Texas should have drawn its state senate districts based on the number of “eligible voters” and not the total number of people living in the state. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas held that Texas was permitted to equalize the population of its state senate districts based on the state’s total population and not by equalizing the number of “eligible voters.”
In an amicus brief submitted by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on behalf of New York and 20 other states, the state argues “that adoption of plaintiffs’ theory “would fundamentally upend the states’ redistricting practices” and force them to abandon their use of total population in favor of an ‘eligible voter’ count – one that no existing source of data reliably provides. As the brief explains, the states have built “a unique and long-running collaboration” with the Census Bureau over the past 40 years that “ensures that states have accurate, useful, and neutral total-population counts on which to base redistricting.” Because the Census’s decennial enumeration does not provide states with any counts of voters, accepting plaintiffs’ theory would “throw state redistricting across the country into chaos.”
A report recently issued by redistricting expert Dr. Andrew Beveridge of Social Explorer found that a reversal by the Supreme Court in Evenwel would leave nearly half of upper house legislative districts across the nation out of compliance with legal population requirements when they are compared to eligible-voter based average district size (49.9 percent of districts, or 974 of 1951).
Beveridge also found that over half of the lower house legislative districts would also need to be redrawn (57.2 percent of districts, or 2,739 of 4,792).
By not using total population for redistricting, a major power shift would be created away from areas with school age children, Hispanics, Asians and non-citizens towards areas with older residents.
In New York State, senate and assembly districts would shift across the board, with the movement of districts within cities and localities and away from the New York City metropolitan region and from large upstate cities toward more rural parts of the state.
According to a study completed by the CUNY Mapping Service’s Steve Romalewski, “by counting eligible voters rather than total people, the population of New York City would be reduced by over three million. The CUNY Center is located at the Center for Urban Research/The Graduate Center.
Estimates include a downstate shift of two Senate Seats and five to seven Assembly districts moving northward.