This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Demographics of One Person One Vote

The US Supreme Court this week agreed to review a case that could help decide what is actually meant by the concept of "one person, one vote." The NYTimes summarizes the issue in this way:
The court’s ruling, expected in 2016, could be immensely consequential. Should the court agree with the two Texas voters who brought the case, its ruling would shift political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would benefit Republicans. 
The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.
A ruling that districts must be based on equal numbers of voters would move political power away from cities, with their many immigrants and children, and toward older and more homogeneous rural areas.
[I should note that I am not certain of the validity of this blanket statement--it may be generally true, but not dramatically so. A lot of undocumented immigrants in states like California, Texas, and Florida are living and working in counties that are predominantly agricultural.]
The case, a challenge to voting districts for the Texas Senate, was brought by two voters, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger. They are represented by the Project on Fair Representation, the small conservative advocacy group that successfully mounted the earlier challenge to the Voting Rights Act. It is also behind a pending challenge to affirmative action in admissions at the University of Texas at Austin.
It turns out that this is a very complex issue, and one with a long history. Everyone interested in this issue (and that should be every one living in the US), including the attorneys and Supreme Court justices, should read the Population Association of America Presidential Address by Marta Tienda of Princeton University from 2002, which is technically behind a subscription to the journal Demography, but can be found here. As the demographics of the US have changed over the years, the issue has periodically arisen as to which people should be included when we calculate the number of constituents for a given office, which then helps drive the boundaries for that elected office. There are, in short, no easy answers, which is one of the reasons why the current status is somewhat vague. 

In a classical case of "be careful what you wish for," it is interesting that the petitioners in this case are from Texas. Although the case revolves around the Texas Senate, not the federal House of Representatives, Marta Tienda's analysis showed that if you excluded immigrants from apportionment for seats in the House of Representatives, Texas would lose several seats in Congress. Oops!

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