Back in April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that states were allowed to count all of its residents—and not just those eligible to vote—when drawing their elective districts. The decision was a significant statement on the principle of “one person, one vote,” and marked the first time the Supreme Court had ever ruled on the issue directly.
The case in question was Evenwel v. Abbot, which involved two voters in Texas who were challenging how the state apportions its state senate districts. Evenwel argued that counting people ineligible to vote, such as children, convicted felons and the mentally disabled, diluted political power in suburban and rural areas, thereby violating the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Abbot made the exact opposite argument: that failing to count all persons violated their right to elected representation.
Political ramifications at stake
Generally, the court’s ruling to reject Evenwel’s argument could intensify political power in areas where there are large numbers of people who cannot vote. For the most part, these are urban areas that tend to support Democrats. Had the court ruled in the opposite direction, it would have strengthened power in more rural areas of the United States, where Republicans are more likely to receive support.
It is worth noting that the Supreme Court’s ruling does not mean that states and territories must use total population when drawing their districts, but rather that it’s an option they can use. Nearly all states and territories, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, use the total population method rather than looking at eligible voters alone.
In our territory, it appears as though legislative districts will continue to be apportioned based on total population in the foreseeable future, but all eyes are on the 2020 United States Census when it is predicted that the population for the District of St. Croix will dip substantially below that for the District of St. Thomas-St. John, which could jeopardize the current even split of senators between the districts.
Mapp moves to eliminate symbol voting
In other election news directly related to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Governor Kenneth E. Mapp took action to end “symbol voting,” which had caused a great deal of confusion during the 2014 elections. The reform would remove the option to vote for candidates using symbols on computerized voting machines. In 2014, some of these machines could not be used because they did not alert voters to errors that had occurred, thereby affecting those individuals’ votes.
Tom Bolt is Chair of the Government Relations Practice Group at BoltNagi PC, a widely respected and well-established law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.