Friday, 11 February 2011 19:47

Redistricting, Louisiana, 14th Amendment And Unintended Consequences

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Redistricting and gerrymandering are once again the focus of high-stakes politics in Louisiana, and across the country.  This is the once-a-decade process during which political incumbents selectively redraw the boundaries of their districts to include mostly people who will vote for them.  This is also why Congress is so polarized.  Democratic incumbents redraw districts to include as many liberals as possible and Republicans do the same with conservatives.  The moderate middle, which is most of us purple people, get divvied between the two extremes and do not have much say in who gets elected.

There is an even more sinister aspect to redistricting, and congressional apportionment.  Consider that all congressional districts within a state must have equal populations.  This includes all residents: voters, non-voters, citizens, legal residents, illegal residents, babies, everyone.  Many of our nation’s social ills originated from counting everyone for purposes of redistricting/apportionment.

The Trail of Tears is one of the darkest moments in American history.  Thousands of Native Americans died when they were forced to migrate from their tribal lands in the southeastern states to what is now Oklahoma.  This was mandated by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which passed Congress because of the unanimous support from slave states where these tribal lands were located.  Ironically, it was the inclusion of slaves in the apportionment count that provided enough votes in Congress to pass the Act.  Sadly, it was the political power taken from slaves, who could not vote, that was used to displace Native Americans, who also could not vote.


Our current method of apportionment is based on 14th amendment, which was ratified in 1868.  When the amendment was being debated there was a proposal to base apportionment on voters – not total population.  This version was promoted by three republican congressmen from Ohio and Pennsylvania.  They reasoned that basing congressional representation on voters would create an incentive for southern states to allow black males to vote.  These white northern congressmen wagered that the former slaves would vote for republican candidates given that Abraham Lincoln, a republican, had freed them.  Ultimately, congressional apportionment was not based on voters for two reasons.  First, southern states wanted to disenfranchise black voters without having to worry about losing congressional representatives.  Second, there was a concern that basing apportionment on voters would create an incentive to extend voting rights to women.  Apportionment was based on total population in order to limit voting rights. This delayed women’s suffrage until 1920 and southern blacks did not regain voting rights until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Isn’t that all behind us?  Not really.

We no longer have slavery but we do have large numbers of non-voters.  This includes both illegal and legal immigrants who are not citizens.  There are also plenty of American-born residents who do not vote.   The problem is that these non-voters are concentrated in states with the highest population growth.  We are increasingly giving more congressional representation to states with the lowest voter participation.  Do not be surprised if there are awful and unintended consequences.

It is time to revisit the initial proposal for the 14th amendment and base congressional apportionment on the population of voters.  This would limit political power to one-person, one-vote.

Orlando Rodriguez is a graduate of LSU who works for a public policy organization in Connecticut.  He is the author of Vote Thieves: Illegal Immigration, Redistricting, and Presidential Elections from Potomac Books, Inc.

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