Defining One-Person, One-Vote in Terms of Redistricting

Sociology professor at UCR is co-author and signer of amicus brief

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( – David Swanson, professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside, is the co-author and signer of an amicus brief to be heard by the Supreme Court in its upcoming session that begins on Oct. 5.

David Swanson

David Swanson

An amicus brief is presented to a judge with new information, or a different perspective on a case than what the parties have provided. The case, No. 14-940, Evenwel v. Abbott, centers on defining what “one-person, one-vote” means using a case on appeal from Texas. The brief Swanson is involved in covers the Census Bureau data that can be used to identify the Citizen Population of Voting Age.

In the case of Evenwel v. Abbott, Swanson and other amici curiae present the question whether the “one person, one-vote” principle of the Fourteenth Amendment creates a judicially enforceable right ensuring that the districting process does not deny voters an equal vote.

“The issue in this case stems from an earlier decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court that stated ‘one person, one vote’ must be used for purposes of redistricting. However, the court never issued an opinion in regard to how ‘one person’ should be measured,” Swanson explained.

This led to different jurisdictions using different definitions of “one person” for purposes of redistricting – that is, different populations are used in terms of redistricting, according to Swanson. Some states used estimates of the total population (all ages, citizen and non-citizen), others used voting age population (all citizens and non-citizens, 18 years and over), and still others used citizens of voting age (citizens aged 18 and over). Different definitions led to different redistricting plans.

“This case is really about which population should be measured for purposes of redistricting with the idea that there should be a standard used nationwide.  Estimates of the population using some of the definitions in use have already been deemed, at least in principle, as being valid and reliable,” Swanson said.

The brief Swanson and others signed states that, from the standpoint of demographers familiar with the area of small-area population estimation, it also is possible to construct reliable and valid estimates of the population of citizens of voting age for purposes of redistricting.

A decision by the Supreme Court on this case is expected to be made on Nov. 5.

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