Evenwel v. Abbott: What Does One Person, One Vote Really Mean?

Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger both reside in Senate districts lacking any major urban areas. Demographically, their districts contain very few resident non-citizens compared to other districts that have major cities or are further to the west and the south. Texas’s 31 Senate districts were drawn based on the principle of roughly equal raw population, which is how basically every state does it. So all the districts have about the same number of residents, but they have different numbers of citizens and different numbers of eligible voters. Very different, in fact. If you look at citizen voting-age population, Ms. Evenwel’s district has about 574,000 potential voters. Mr. Pfenninger’s has over 500,000. By contrast, Senate District 27, which includes Brownsville right on the Southern tip of the state up against the Mexican border, has only 372,000 potential voters. The math is straightforward: A Senate vote in Brownsville is worth about one-and-a-half times the votes cast by Ms. Evenwel and Mr. Pfenninger. Or, if you turn it around, Ms. Evenwel’s and Mr. Pfenninger’s votes are each worth about two-thirds as much as a vote cast in Brownsville.

The greatest hope of those committed to the one-person, one-vote status quo seems to be that in deciding Evenwel v. Abbott, the Supreme Court will simply leave it alone if they raise enough random objections. Infused in that view is a great deal of dismissiveness about the merits of the Evenwel litigation and a great deal of angst over its potential political effects. If the Court is true to its precedents, it will act to enforce Sue Evenwel’s and Edward Pfenninger’s right to cast votes of the same weight as those of their fellow Texans. If it does not do that, its decision will mark a real break in the law of OPOV and, as a practical matter, could even spell the beginning of the end of the doctrine. That is the choice the Court faces.

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