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This isn’t breaking news — the redistricting panel’s order came out November 6, and the Texas Tribune and various editorialists have already weighed in on the implications. (See also this coverage from Texas Lawyer).
In particular, Jody Seaborn’s editorial in the Austin-American Statesman expresses everything I feel about the decision, only better. Jody also points out how the delays in the 2012 primary schedule ultimately produced Ted Cruz’s primary runoff victory over the more moderate David Dewhurst. (Disclosure: Jody and I are old friends.)
The federal judicial redistricting panel charged with reviewing the State’s 2011 redistricting plan (yes, that’s not a typo. 2011), has responded somewhat petulantly regarding an effort by a subgroup of the plaintiffs in the Perez v. Perry redistricting litigation who joined together in a motion to enjoin the State from using gerrymandered district boundary lines for the 2016 U.S. House of Representatives elections.
For a good overview and analysis of the origin, development and philosophy of this gerrymandering (cleverly described as a “Perrymander” by various wags), see this excellent article by Rosemarie Unite, The Perrymander, Polarization, and Peyote v. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 46 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1075 (2013) (pdf). Also available in on the web at http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/llr/vol46/iss3/7).
The subgroup of the plaintiffs that petitioned—including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC ), the NAACP, the City of Austin, Travis County, Eddie Rodriguez Jr., Shannon Perez, the Quesada plaintiffs, et al., but excluding the Latino Redistricting Task Force, the United States Department of Justice, and the various congressional officeholder plaintiffs—had hoped to light a fire under the panel by asking for an injunction against the use of the redistricting plan that had been used in the November 2014 election (presumably hoping that the panel would either completely redraw the district maps, or at the very least prohibit the use of the bad maps).
Instead, the redistricting panel announced that the bad maps would most assuredly be used for the 2016 elections, stating that new maps at this late date would be unduly disruptive and confusing to voters and office seekers.
So sorry, petitioners.
See this statement from page five of the redistricting panel’s denial of a request for injunctive relief:
The Court has been working diligently and has made substantial progress toward resolution of the claims on the 2011 plans; however, it has not yet reached a final decision. Trial on the merits of the claims against the 2013 plans has not been scheduled, and legal challenges to the 2013 plans will not be resolved before the 2016 election cycle.
This unanimous denial could have been subtitled, “Redistricting Panels Have Feelings Too, You Know.”
The panel explicitly countered criticism that the judges have been dragging their feet on a resolution.
One can’t help but feel that there’s a little bit of passive-aggressive retribution in the decision. As in, “Oh! You think we haven’t been working fast enough to resolve your redistricting problems? Well how about this? How about we just declare that we won’t bother fixing any of this until the 2018 elections? Yeah! That’ll teach you to pressure us about coming up with some sort of consensus regarding your maps.”
This denial is frustrating on many levels. The State of Texas made no real effort to argue that its 2011 and 2013 maps weren’t discriminatory toward minority voters.The State’s argument, grounded and based solidly on a line of U.S. Supreme Court cases relating to so-called “partisan gerrymandering,” beginning with Davis v. Bandamer, 478 U.S. 109 (1986), Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267 (2004), and League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399 (2006) is, more or less, we don’t discriminate against Hispanics and African Americans because of race, but because we, the line-drawing Republican Party majority, want to crush the Democratic Party, and therefore any seemingly discriminatory line-drawing was not intentional.
You can see this argument reflected throughout the State’s proposed finding of fact and conclusions of law, as well as the State’s pre- and post-trial briefs. For example, on page 56 of the State’s proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, finding of fact number 518 states that the chairman of the Texas House Redistricting Committee felt he could not pass a redistricting plan unless he guaranteed that three of the four new U.S. House of Representatives seats for Texas would go to Republicans. Later, on pages 100-101 of the same proposed finding of fact and conclusions of law (starting around proposed conclusion 45) the State argues for findings of fact that the Texas redistricting plan was motivated by political, rather than racial, discrimination, and was therefore not part of an invidious intentionally racially discriminatory scheme.
And the redistricting panel (which for those of you who are new to the story, consists of the three-judge panel convened in May of 2011 out of the membership of the San Antonio division of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, as explained in this handy blog post from the wonderful (and greatly missed) Texas Redistricting and Election Law blog) has made as explicit as it possibly can that the most glaring of demographic problems with the State’s Congressional and State legislative district maps are not going to be fixed in time for the 2016 elections. That fact leaves just two federal election cycles (2018 and 2020) before the next redistricting maps get drawn.
Particularly for Hispanic voters in Texas, 2011–2021 is shaping up to be the lost decade for both U.S. House of Representatives representation, as well as for representation in the Texas Legislature, notwithstanding the fact that the population gains experienced by the State were overwhelmingly the result of increases in the population of protected classes of linguistic and racial minorities.
In the shadow of our statewide election, the City of Martindale (a town of about 1,200 people in Caldwell County, not far from San Marcos) is having a November 3, 2015, mayoral election.
This election is taking place because of a disastrously error-filled May 9, 2015, mayoral election that had to be contested by the losing mayoral candidate. The Election Academy at the University of Minnesota shares the story, quoting extensively from an Austin-American Statesman story about the city’s election problems.
Briefly, Martindale’s election had the following problems:
- Owing to a misunderstanding about how ballots and voting work when uncontested races are on the ballot, none of the uncontested candidates for city council got any votes.
- The voter registration list combined all the city voters with the non-eligible county voters in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, allowing non-city voters to vote in the contested mayoral election.
As unfortunate as these errors were (and as expensive as the correction proved to be, requiring that a losing candidate had to file a formal election challenge in state district court in order for a new election to be ordered), the lion’s share of the blame for the bad May 9, 2015, city election must be placed on our pitiful Texas Election Code, reflecting systemic flaws resulting from a combination of legislative initiatives to make local elections cheaper and less frequent, and from a lack of state and federal oversight of elections administration in general.
As is so often the case, the problem lies not with individuals, but with poorly engineered systems.
- CERTIFICATION OF UNOPPOSED CANDIDATES, AND WHY STATUTES THAT CANCEL ELECTIONS ARE A VERY BAD IDEA
In 1995, the Texas Legislature amended the Texas Election Code to provide that as long as there weren’t any contested races, a political subdivision could go ahead and cancel an election. Thus was sounded the death knell of the tradition of open write-in candidacy—a political subdivision couldn’t very well treat its races as uncontested if open write-in votes could be counted for any eligible candidate, and therefore entities would have to enforce candidate registration requirements in order to benefit from the cost savings that could be realized by canceling elections.
When the bill passed and was being submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance review under the Voting Rights Act, staff at the Texas Secretary of State’s office noted in passing that one of the negative consequences of the law could be a loss of local institutional familiarity with the conduct of elections. In towns, school districts, and other political entities, the capacity to cancel sleepy unexciting elections meant that years or decades might pass in which said local entity wouldn’t conduct an election of any sort. Institutional experience and memory would fade, procedures would lie fallow, and the capacity for mistakes would expand.
So when (after decades of canceled elections) the City of Martindale found itself with two actual candidates sparring over the position of mayor, nobody knew that the other candidates (for uncontested city council seats) were supposed to be put on the ballot in such a way so that voters could actually vote for them.
Enthusiasm for the undemocratic cancellation of elections is such that now the Texas Election Code also provides a convoluted procedure whereby unopposed candidates for state or county office can be listed on the ballot as elected by fiat. Not surprisingly, this procedure (which doesn’t apply to local races) gets all bolloxed and confused with local election procedures, and leads to mistakes like a city listing its uncontested candidates for city council without also providing any mechanism for recording votes for those candidates.
In point of fact, allowing for the cancellation of elections is contrary to … oh … I don’t know … a tiny little thing like the whole weight of the entirety of English and American law, not to mention the history of Democracy. In other words, everything found in subchapters C and D of Chapter 2 of the Texas Election Code is a giant snarl of terrible ideas that should never have seen the light of day. The notion of “cost saving” is inimical to and incompatible with the necessary expense of maintaining the infrastructure of democracy. And yes, that truth means that small political subdivisions should be expected to conduct elections at fixed regular intervals even when nobody wants to run for office.
By allowing political subdivisions to cancel elections for the last two decades, we have incentivized discouraging people from running for office. (Admittedly, this incentive is counterbalanced to some extent by criminalizing the act of coercion against candidacy, but we’ve lost the ancient tradition of open write-in candidacy, which is dead and buried in Texas.)
- MISTAKES WITH VOTER REGISTRATION LISTS, AND WHY BOUNDARY LINES MATTER
To save money, the City of Martindale conducted its May 2015 mayoral election jointly with a Hays County–area school district, and both the city election and the school district election were administered by the Hays County elections administrator. But the City of Martindale is located in Caldwell County, meaning that the Hays County elections administrator had to cross a county line, setting up and deploying Hays County–owned voting equipment and workers in Caldwell County–sited polling locations, and using a hodgepodge of Hays County jurisdictional voting lists (for some of the school district voters) mixed in with Caldwell County jurisdictional voting lists (for the City of Martindale election, which included a ballot referendum for the approval of an extraterritorial-jurisdictional Martindale Development District that non-Martindale residents of the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction were eligible to vote on).
I’m sorry. That’s … just wrong.
Who can blame the Hays County elections administrator for failing to distinguish the voting eligibility of two distinct groups of voters, defined by geographic boundaries the management of which are entirely outside the scope of the Hays County voter registrar’s office?
Not for nothing, but the November 3, 2015, do-over election will be conducted by the Caldwell County elections office.
This particular recipe for disaster should be laid squarely at the feet of our state election laws. In particular, the confusion over voting eligibility was exacerbated by a ugly, punitive anti-school-district law passed in 2006 (Section 11.0581 of the Texas Education Code) that specified that school districts were obligated to conduct their officer elections jointly with the general elections of a municipality.
On the face of it, that doesn’t seem like such a bad law, until you realize that school districts don’t actually have territorial boundaries wholly encompassed by, and coterminous with, city boundaries. The real purpose of the law was to strip school district local governance away and place control of school district elections with geographically separated city government elections.
So the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD) had no say about whether their trustee election would be paired with the City of Martindale mayoral election—the school district was required by law to conduct its single-member district trustee election jointly with a city election.
In May 2015, the available city election on which the school district trustee election could piggyback was the general and special municipal election for the City of Martindale (which shares overlapping territory with the Single Member District 2 trustee position for SMCISD). And while some of SMCISD is located in Caldwell County, the bulk of the school district is in Hays County, leading the school district to naturally rely on the Hays County Elections office to take on the administrative burden of conducting “the election.”
And by “the election,” I mean in fact two elections—the school district trustee election for single-member District 2 of the SMCISD and the City of Martindale election for mayor.
But really, by “two elections,” I mean three distinct elections in three different territorial regions:
(1) the SMCISD school district trustee election,
(2) the general election for officers for the City of Martindale, and
(3) the referendum election in the City of Martindale ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction) to approve the creation of the Martindale Development District.
Is it any wonder that voters got the wrong ballots, with some Martindale ETJ voters voting in the City of Martindale mayoral election? The whole election was like the set-up for a bad sit-com joke about an administrative disaster resulting from impossible-to-follow instructions.
Now, Dimsdale, the conduct of this election is the very essence of simplicity. Why, even a toddler could do it.
When a voter comes into the polling place, simply consult this badly printed and faded mimeographed list, and then compare the voter’s residence address with this smudged and slightly wrinkled map of the boundary lines of the city, the county, the school district single-member districts, and the city extraterritorial jurisdiction. Oh, except that you’ll need to consult a separate map for the ETJ, but only for that portion of the ETJ that overlaps with the District. Not the whole district, but just District 2 of the District, except in the portion that isn’t being affected by the vote to approve the District (and by that District, I mean the Development District, not District 2 of the District. Or the District). Now, just cross-reference the block range and street name with this slightly out-of-date block list, and you’ll note the lowercase abbreviation codes for each of the jurisdictions, assuming that the person is within Hays County. But, if the voter has a Caldwell County address, you’ll need to consult this incompatible list that uses a completely different abbreviation code. Now, whatever you do, don’t fail to not provide Version B of the ballot (containing the SMCISD trustee election) to someone ineligible to vote in the city election, unless it is clear that you should be providing Version C of the ballot (when the city voter also happens to live inside the boundaries of SMCISD single-member district 2) except when you need to provide Version A, but only to those who live in Hays County. And obviously, apply those requirements to Versions B2, C2 and A2 in like measure for voters in Caldwell County. So, good luck, and remember, there’s no reason to not not call the voter registrar for Caldwell County, unless it’s for a voter in Hays County, and … oh dear, I seem to have spilled grape jelly on the map, which was printed using a shade of purple ink disturbingly similar in shade to the color of the spilled jelly. But no matter—I’m sure that despite this being the first election that you’ve ever volunteered for that you’ll have no difficulty whatsoever managing the long line of angry voters who are already gathering outside the locked doors of this tiny, un-air-conditioned polling site with inadequate parking and intermittent power outages. Oh, and voting booth number two has always been a bit wonky. Just give it a good shake from time to time, but be careful not to knock the battery pack loose.
Good luck, Dimsdale, I have every confidence in you.
- OKAY, I KID, BUT THIS KIND OF DISASTER IS BOTH PREDICTABLE AND PREVENTABLE
The City of Martindale doesn’t have a lot of money—it’s a modest town with a small tax base, and no appreciable industry. And yet, thanks to the need to re-do the election, the city must shell out thousands of dollars in precious city revenue in order to conduct a do-over election, all because of the “cost-savings” gained from being able to cancel elections in preceding years. The news coverage is embarrassing, and according to the Statesman story, has exacerbated the ill-will between the former mayor of Martindale and the person who won the May 2015 mayoral election.
But this was just one of those one-in-a-million flukes, right? I mean, these kinds of disasters don’t happen that often, right?
Sadly, no. This may have been the City of Martindale’s first brush with the awful and costly election contest process, but the same factors that led to this disaster repeat over and over again across the State of Texas with depressing regularity.
So, what should a city secretary do to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in future elections?
- Get the ballots printed and reviewed as early as possible.
- Make it a fixed and automatic routine to require outside review and analysis of the election’s administrative burdens by experienced election law experts.
- Confirm jurisdictional boundaries early, and specify exactly which jurisdictional territories can and can’t vote on each ballot issue.
- Assign final responsibility for each local election specifically to one person per jurisdiction, rather than relying on an extraterritorial “joint” early voting clerk or county voter registrar forced to act outside the scope of his or her job description.
- Remember that an election services contract with another entity is not a mechanism for abdicating responsibility for the local conduct of an election.
- Even when state law permits you to cancel an election, follow the formal procedural steps for ordering the election, defining the contractual responsibilities associated with that election, and documenting the cancellation or declaration of unopposed candidacy.
- Maintain a detailed permanent election register for all elections, whether cancelled or not.
Yes, it’s embarrassing, what happened in the City of Martindale. But don’t blame the city secretary. It wasn’t her fault that state law created a perfect storm of administrative confusion. An early call to the Elections Division (say, sometime in March of 2015) would (optimistically) have saved the city from this disaster, but in a larger sense the city’s woes are just a demonstration of how we need to reform state law regarding election cancellations.
Today I got a call from a Houston-area radio journalist asking questions about how Texas makes it harder for homeless people to vote. On the one hand, the timing of the question was a little late (what with the registration deadline already having passed for the statewide and local November 3, 2015 elections here in Texas). On the other hand, the question was timely, given that a five-month lead-in to the early February deadline to register to vote for the March 2016 primary elections probably gives homeless voters the time they need to organize their identification paperwork and fight their legal and bureaucratic battles so that they’ll be able to cast a ballot next year.
If ever there was a class of voters that was easy to disenfranchise, it would have to be the homeless – even before we had voter I.D. laws, only an estimated 10% of the eligible voting-age homeless population participated in elections. (This statistic is widely cited, and consistent with statements made by Neil Donovan, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. See, e.g., http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/forgotten-voters-dc-volunteers-work-to-register-the-homeless/.)
Why are the turnout numbers so small for the homeless? Let me turn that question around. Why wouldn’t we expect the number of homeless people successfully engaging in the political process to be a tiny minority of the homeless population? After all, our government has raised enormous barriers to discourage homeless participation in politics, with ballot limitation policies that often appear to be motivated more by petty cruelty or simple mean-spiritedness than by any legitimate administrative concerns; is it any wonder that homeless have gotten the message that they are not wanted at the polls?
That’s not to say that there aren’t organizations making an effort to counter this powerfully negative message of exclusion – there are regional groups like Homeless Not Powerless (which was active in early 2014 and centered around urban centers in Alabama and North Carolina), as well as national groups like the aforementioned National Coalition for the Homeless (who produced a .pdf brochure in 2012 urging the homeless to register to vote and go to the polls).
I would hope that homeless advocates would similarly work to encourage voting by the homeless in 2016, but nobody doubts that the Texas photo i.d. law makes that a lot harder.
DOESN’T EVERYBODY HAVE A DRIVER’S LICENSE ALREADY?
Uh … no. Could anybody still say this sort of thing with a straight face? Well, yes – at last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival here in Austin, State Representative Jason Villalba (R) (Dallas) said that a photo I.D. requirement was “no big,” because everybody already has a license to do things like rent cars and book airline tickets.
Ah, the power of anecdotal experience. Ah, the failure of imagination. Since a Texas lawmaker has a driver’s license, everybody must have one. You know, except for the 600,000 eligible already-registered voters who lack such a thing.
Seriously, does Representative Villalba think that the whole development of evidence and discovery phase of a contested civil rights trial just takes place in an ’80s movie montage? Has it somehow escaped the understanding of our state lawmakers that when lawyers clash in a courtroom setting, spending huge sums of money on depositions, expert witnesses, and intensive documentary analysis and research, that the resulting mountains of evidence are somehow just … irrelevant to their own fantasies about how the other half lives? It isn’t some made-up statistic – the Texas Secretary of State’s own records confirm that around 600,000 registered voters lack sufficient i.d. to vote. A much larger number of non-registered voting-age citizens also lack the documentation required to cast a ballot.
OKAY, SO NOT EVERYONE HAS A DRIVER’S LICENSE. BUT … I MEAN, COULDN’T THEY ALL GET DRIVERS’ LICENSES?
With unlimited resources, time and money, problems like a lack of supporting documentation magically vanish for eligible voting-age Texans. Except … people don’t have unlimited resources, time and money. That’s sort-of the problem, isn’t it?
To be fair, the State of Texas makes it possible for people without drivers’ licenses to get specialized picture I.D.s to be used for the narrow purpose of voting. And these I.D.s are at least legally issued free of charge to anyone who can cough up sufficient documentary proof of their identity – such as a birth certificate or a passport.
Here’s the kicker (as I have mentioned before, more than once) – not everyone has a birth certificate or a passport. And getting a birth certificate or a passport isn’t a cost-free transaction.
A little digging uncovered some private charitable groups that help homeless people get I.D. forms, and subsidize the cost of those forms – there’s a coalition of Presbyterian churches in downtown Houston (Main Street Ministries) that offers a homeless I.D. workshop on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m., excluding holidays. But … that service is limited in scope, and is only available to homeless people who have a valid referral letter from an approved referring agency.
To be fair, I’ll grant you that “some limited charitable resources for getting a picture I.D.” isn’t the same thing as “no resources for getting a picture I.D.” It would be inaccurate to say that there are no avenues by which an impoverished homeless person could get the materials necessary to register to vote and cast a ballot.
But some things are just inherently harder to do when you don’t have a fixed residence address. For instance, there’s the problem of providing a residence for purposes of identifying a voting precinct.
Here in Austin, a homeless person could successfully complete a voter registration application by filling out the form and listing a physical geographic location (“under the overpass at IH35 and 12th Street”) as the residence. For a mailing address (in order to get the voter registration certificate), a person could then list “General Delivery” along with the zip code for the main post office.
Problem solved, right? Except … a person must provide two forms of i.d. and a valid residence address in order to receive mail from the General Delivery window at a regional mail distribution center, per the USPS Domestic Mail Manual. Except … there’s an exception to this requirement in the discretion of the local postmaster if a transient person is “known to the postmaster” and sufficiently well-identified.
Subjective, mushy, exceptions to general rules create certain fairness problems. A nice local postmaster might go to great lengths to assist homeless mail clients with securing no-cost P.O. boxes and long-term General Delivery accounts. Or not – when Seattle homeless sued the Postal Service in the late 1990s for failing to provide mail delivery, they were more-or-less poured out of court with an appellate decision that upheld the Postal Service’s broad discretion to chose how much or how little it needed to do to in terms of providing mail services to the homeless.
So, yay to you, homeless person, if you happen to live in an area where you can get mail delivery. But if you live somewhere where you can’t get mail delivery (say, if transportation issues and a lack of i.d. make it impossible for you to sign up for General Delivery), the Postal Service isn’t obligated as a matter of law to help you out.
Homeless people get to experience annoying Catch-22s involving ignorant voter registrars who insist on the primacy of a street address, wherein the homeless person submits a voter registration application, but has the application rejected because it doesn’t list a place that the voter registrar believes is a “real residence.”
WELL, OKAY. MAYBE HOMELESS PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK A LITTLE HARDER TO REGISTER TO VOTE. BUT VOTING IS IMPORTANT – IF THEY REALLY WANT TO VOTE, TRANSIENTS SHOULD BE WILLING TO PUT UP WITH A LITTLE PAIN AND FRUSTRATION
Um … okay. This is the sort of absentminded cruelty that leads to civil rights violations, because it belies a popular and common attitude – that the homeless are morally inferior and undeserving of any particular care or consideration when it comes to voting.
If that’s how one feels, why not apply that philosophy to other groups as well. Why do we coddle people who are disabled on Election Day? Why have we had a law on the books for the last 110 years allowing people in the extremis of terrible illness the right to vote from their sick beds on Election Day? And why do we coddle people who have just had a death in the family and been called away by the need to bury a loved one?
For that matter, why bother accommodating the absentee voting of people who are actually under fire in a foreign war zone? Shouldn’t we expect soldiers to just tough it out? I mean, if voting is so important and all, why should we make it easier for anyone to vote? Why not just have the entire electorate crawl through broken glass to get to the polling place? I mean, if democracy is so precious and all, shouldn’t we all be willing to suffer indignities, costs, and hardships that are thrown up as roadblocks to our vote?
Well, no. obviously. First of all, most of us aren’t heartless psychopaths who take pleasure from the pain of other human beings. And secondly, most of us understand how the whole “fairness” thing works, because we occasionally benefit from the kindness of others, and can empathize with people who find themselves in need of kindness.
I mean, it would be one thing if we all faced exactly the same burdens on our ability to cast a ballot – then one could at least argue that the pain and cost of voting was distributed evenly among all voters. But that isn’t the case – some people have a significantly harder time casting a ballot than others. And to the extent that some people face greater hurdles to participation means that those people are disproportionately less likely to be able to participate as voters in an election.
We would only exclude those people from participation (and preserve the exclusionary barriers limiting participation in the organs of self-government) if we really didn’t want those people to participate. And that way lies the path to insurrection, rebellion, and death.
The homeless are entitled to participate in elections with the same ease and transparency of process as any of the rest of us, whether we are renters, homeowners, fabulously wealthy, desperately poor, or living under a bridge. And until the homeless are able to participate in elections with the same ease and lack of constant scrutiny and suspicion. we cannot say that we are free citizens of a democracy.
Lighting A Fire Under the Redistricting Panel – Plaintiffs Seek Injunctive Relief From San Antonio Federal Court
As Rick Hasen has reported, yesterday the plaintiffs in the 2011 redistricting lawsuit asked the three-judge panel for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division to enjoin the State of Texas from using the patently illegal district boundary lines that were used in the 2014 election.
Evidence-wise, the plaintiffs have a slam-dunk on this one – the State has lost at every turn with respect to the question as to whether the 2011 redistricting violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; and there isn’t any serious disagreement on the facts – the State enacted a redistricting plan that was motivated by racial animus in order to limit the voting rights of racial minority groups.
For some reason that has never been explicitly articulated, the court appears to be paralyzed and unable to move on this issue. Possibly the members of the redistricting panel fear that any dramatic change in boundary lines will draw a disastrous results-oriented Supreme Court rebuke that might leave the plaintiffs in an even-worse position. but that doesn’t really justify the timidity with which the court has approached this matter. Whatever the motivation, the risk is now quite high that just as with the Texas elections in 2012 and 2014, the 2016 primaries and general election might be conducted using bad maps.
As I said before in reference to the November 2014 elections, the use of maps that have been explicitly found to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is not in keeping with judicial economy. That is true in part because bad maps are an early Christmas present to any losing candidate in any election in any of the affected urban areas in the State (particularly around the major population centers).
Heads up, election litigators – if your candidate has strong support among minority voters in 2016, but loses on these maps, you have been handed a ready-made, pre-briefed reason to contest the outcome of that unsuccessful election. And every contested election has at least one losing candidate, so somebody’s going to get creative if the court doesn’t get its act together.
A few posts ago, in a fit of pique, and in the context of Donald Trump’s relative success as an early front-runner among the potential Republican Party candidates running for that party’s 2016 presidential race nomination, I referred to the Republican Party as the “Party of Apartheid.” My wife believes that this rhetorical flourish stepped over a line (the invisible line of “I am trying to get a job and not look like a crazy person by insulting people needlessly.”) (P.S. I am seeking employment.)
The thing is, when I wrote that line, I didn’t actually think I was being particularly provocative or insulting. In the past, I’ve referred to the Republican Party as having a distinct intra-party segment or wing that could fairly be described as neo-segregationist, and for my own enlightenment, I’ve traced the history of the Republican Party’s post-1964 Faustian bargain known as the “Southern Strategy,” in which the party absorbed the explicitly pro-segregationist Southern Dixiecrats who felt abandoned by the Democratic Party. (For an introductory overview of the evolution of the “Southern Strategy,” this Wikipedia article is a good start. Also good is this recent short article by Professor Elwood Watson on GOP engagement with racial politics.)
The Southern Strategy was wildly and overwhelmingly successful, by the way. By welcoming the tattered remains of conservative Southern Democrats into their folds, the Republican Party decisively conquered local, state, and Federal offices throughout the South, particularly with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan.
Why did the strategy work so well? Think about it. It’s not as though the Federal judicial and legislative triumph of the Civil Rights Act waved a magic wand and made all the segregationists disappear, just because the formal mechanisms and legal framework of segregation itself had been abolished. The segregationists had to go somewhere.
Nevertheless, in a nod to those who may have felt individually singled out or insulted by my analysis of the Republican Party as an institution, I should acknowledge that the act of labeling a person, group, association, or political party as racist is rhetorically inflammatory, even when that person, group, association, or political party is objectively racist. The fact that racist individuals do not (generally) relish self-identification as racists should be seen as a positive recent development in American political discourse.
As politicians of all parties and ideological positions learned over the iterative process of attempting to win elections in the United States, starting with post-Reconstruction and moving forward through the Civil Rights era, one had to be sensitive to the ways in which threatened conservative white voters preserved their sense of self-worth as human beings in the face of cognitive dissonance on being told that they were horrible people for being bigots.
I suspect that for individual bigots (i.e., ultimately all of us, since we all have our own internal unsupportable prejudices), bigotry involves a constant gauging of social acceptability and peer status in terms of feelings about a prejudice, with an internal, unspoken tug of war between a personal racist assertion born of culture, background, and experience (say, something like an unspoken feeling that, “I hate minorities,” or “I hate poor people,” or “I hate people who are different from me.”) and a questioning of that personal racist assertion, (something like, “Do I really hate minorities? What about Colin Powell? He’s identified as a minority based on racial classifications, but he’s also a former member of a Republican Presidential administration. Do I hate Colin Powell? If I do hate him, is it because he is identified as belonging to a racial minority, or do I hate him for reasons unrelated to his identification as a racial minority? Do I hate Condoleeza Rice? She’s also a former member of a Republican Presidential administration. If I discover on self-examination that I do hate Condoleeza Rice, does my realization affect how I see myself interacting with a community of my family, friends, coworkers, and peers?”)
So a person might go from thinking, “I hate minorities.” to thinking, “I thought I hated all minorities. But other people who share my views appear not to hate Condoleeza Rice, either because (a) they don’t regard her as being a hated minority, or (b) because they don’t hate minorities. Now either I don’t know if I hate Condoleeza Rice, or my global hatred of minorities must be modified and altered because Condoleeza Rice lacks some element of unacceptability in the eyes of my peers. Perhaps I don’t hate Condoleeza Rice despite the fact that she is identified with a minority group, either because she transcends that group, or because I don’t really hate minorities.”
Among some groups (say, for example, the most extreme white supremacists), the peer consensus would support continuing to hate Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas, or other nationally famous black political conservatives, solely on the basis of race – these groups and the individual bigots within these groups would then be compelled to distance themselves even further from their more moderate ideological peers, at a cost in terms of their self-identity and self-perceived social value and acceptance. When pressed on their rationalizations for their inability to not hate individual black conservatives, they would have to fall back on some distinguishing factor or quality specific to cultural determinations of say, Condoleeza Rice’s identification as a member of a minority group that she can never overcome; one could imagine a White Power gang member or a Klu Klux Klan member saying, “Oh, we can’t make an exception in our general worldview on behalf of Condoleeza Rice because of [some rationalization supporting the universality of our hatred for blacks].”
Among other groups (say, for example, conservative whites who have internalized a capacity to interact on civil terms with members of racial minority groups), the internal dialogue on race comes to a different conclusion than it does for more “doctrinaire” racists. A rural Southern bigot who has personal experiences of professional and social dealings with members of a nominally hated group might think. “Wait. I’m not a racist after all, because I don’t hate Condoleeza Rice. In order to actually be a racist, it would be necessary for me to hate Condoleeza Rice. Q.E.D., I’m open-minded. Thank goodness I’m not a racist, because self-identification as a racist comes with a number of unacceptable social trade-offs and costs that I’m not willing to be burdened with.”
Such a person, having experienced relief at not having to self-identify as racist, would read my labeling of the Republican Party as the “Party of Apartheid” (or more accurately, my use of that label to suggest that Donald Trump’s success in the early running among possible Republican Party candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination demonstrates segregationist vigor within the Republican Party) as deeply offensive. “How dare that horrid little election law attorney paint me with the broad brush of brutal South African racial apartheid, just because I happened to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012! I’m no racist! I don’t even like Donald Trump!”
Here’s where its important for readers not to conflate their own personal self-identification with the ideological positions and strategies of the groups that they are members of. The fact that I can regard the Republican Party as effectively repositioning itself as the Party of Apartheid does not mean that I think individuals who label themselves as Republicans are consequently automatically in favor of neo-segregationist policies, or that I think that all (or even very many) Republicans are white supremacists, or that they even agree with or approve of their party’s general position on any matters associated with race.
If that isn’t clear, let me repeat it. As a shorthand expression of someone’s moral qualities, policy views, or personal ethics, I find party affiliation to be a completely meaningless and useless label in the abstract. There are Republicans in South Texas who would be vilified as bomb-throwing members of the Communist Politburo by hard right-wingers. There are Democrats in the Texas Panhandle who would be satirized as fire-breathing ultra-right Fascists by hard left-wingers. If someone shakes my hand and tells me, “I’m John Doe, Republican,” I don’t think, “Oh, John Doe, you must be a racist.” In fact, I don’t make any judgment at all until John Doe actually tells me what he thinks and shows me how he acts.
It’s not even the case that any Republicans necessarily wanted or welcomed segregationists into the Republican Party after 1964. In 1968, George Wallace ran for President on the Firebreathing Racist ticket because the Party of Lincoln didn’t want him, and the Democrats had evolved away from him. But as I said, the segregationists had to go somewhere, and ours is a nation institutionally constructed to preserve a two-party political system.
When a group gets the boot from one party, they only have one option – joining the other party. They have to swallow their pride, alter their rhetoric, philosophically make their peace with the realignment, and move on with their lives. That’s what the segregationists did after LBJ (in the most dramatic political masterstroke since the Emancipation Proclamation) broke the power of the Southern Congressional delegation.
What’s interesting about the inevitability of Donald Trump’s current success is that reflects a new sophistication in the segregationist platform; one that (wisely) steers away from the tired, moribund, and politically impotent anti-black racism of the Old South, and instead energizes a more cosmopolitan national nativist racism that plugs into a nuanced hatred of an amorphous and threatening “other.”
As other commenters have pointed out, today’s decision upholding the determination that Texas violated the Voting Rights Act is a painfully contorted partial affirmance and remand to the trial court for a remedy. (The link is to the copy of the opinion provided on Rick Hasen’s blog).
The appellate court in effect has said, “Well, Texas doesn’t always charge for birth certificates now (thanks to a mildly remedial law passed in the 2015 legislative session), so we think the picture ID requirement isn’t a poll tax. And … we think the trial court relied too much on an historical record of racial discrimination in Texas. That’s just mean. So … we’re remanding the decision to see if the trial court can find any more evidence of current racial discrimination. We grudgingly admit that the Texas picture ID law is illegal, but we’ll leave it to the trial court to figure out a way to carefully invalidate only those portions of the law that are bad. Which might not be the whole law.”
It’s really a terrible decision in a lot of ways; a sort-of wishy-washy agonized small-voiced acknowledgment that Texas broke the law, mixed in with page after page of carefully-worded dismissal of the mountains of factual evidence of intentional racial discrimination that prompted the law’s development in the first place.
Gosh. All that historical stuff just leaves the Court woozy and afraid that maybe the trial court was too hard on poor old Texas.
Here’s Rick Hasen’s analysis on this breaking story. I find it troubling that the 5th Circuit remanded on the question as to whether the Texas picture I.D. law had a racially discriminatory purpose. Still, it’s at least a nail in the coffin of one of the worst voter suppression laws in the country.
Notice anything strange about these websites?
That’s right – there’s not the slightest mention of the 5th Circuit’s decision. That’s quite a contrast from back when Shelby County v. Holder came out; (within two hours of that decision two years ago, there were notices plastered all over the Secretary of State’s website announcing that the State was doubling down on its special brand of violating voter’s rights and instantly applying the discredited voter ID law).
If a voter relied on the Texas Secretary of State’s website for information, they would think that it was all business as usual; http://www.votetexas.gov informs voters that a “picture I.D. is now required to vote.”
But you say, “Well, Joe, that’s kind of unfair. I mean … there’s all that HTML coding to do, and it’s after business hours, and …”
The decision came out at lunchtime. That’s six hours ago.
After all, the Texas Attorney General had time to put something up on that agency’s website.
What the … ? “Texas Voter ID Law to Remain In Effect”
Oh my god.
That’s really embarrassing.
I guess the A.G. takes the position that because the 5th Circuit remanded on the issue of intentional discrimination, the fact that the court upheld the trial court determination that the law is freakin’ illegal and unenforceable is somehow sprinkled with magic appellate fairy dust.
Then again, the following disclaimer should be prominently displayed and attached to all press statements made by the Texas Attorney General.
“Please note that the opinions of the Attorney General are those of an individual currently under indictment for three felonies involving acts of intentional fraud. Therefore, proceed with caution.”
As you may know, tomorrow (April 28), a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hear oral argument in Veasey v. Perry. Texas has appealed the trial court’s damning conclusion that the State had used its voter I.D. law to enact a deliberately racially discriminatory barrier to voting.
Back in March, as the April 1, 2015 deadline for its reply brief loomed, the State asserted that it would only need 11,500 words to successfully argue that its draconian picture I.D. law wasn’t targeting minorities. After all, it wouldn’t take much paper to say that Texas’ voter I.D. law is more universally and generally horrible than merely racist. It doesn’t just discriminate against protected racial and language minority groups – it also discriminates against elderly voters, student voters, the poor, voters with disabilities, and inconveniences or hinders voting in general for everyone.
And there’s the State’s argument on appeal – which I shall broadly and meanly paraphrase as follows. “This law is so bad, it can’t possibly have been motivated by mere racial animus. We just hate all voters.” (That’s actually the second part of the State’s argument. The first part is, “well … all the people who were disenfranchised should have just voted by mail.” Unfortunately for the State, that’s a terrible argument, in part because it violates equal-rights provisions of the 14th Amendment. In fact, it’s such a self-destructive “shot in the foot” argument that everyone else feels a little sorry for the State’s litigators for being forced to repeat it. I mean … they do know that equating voting by mail with in-person voting is sort-of cringe inducingly bad form in civil rights litigation, right?)
Embarrassingly, the powers-that-be at the Texas Solicitor-General’s office dawdled a bit over the crafting of their succinct brief, and accidentally filed it a few minutes after midnight on April 2nd. These things happen, and nobody (other than me) felt particularly inclined to capitalize on the minor technical error in order to gently ridicule the already hapless appellant.
On a more serious note, people interested in same-day coverage of tomorrow’s oral argument should contact Erik Opsal at the Brennan Center.
Finally, for a nice perspective on why the international reputation of the United States currently hangs in the balance over voting rights, here’s a nice paper by Patricia Broussard, published as part of a recent symposium on the Voting Rights Act conducted by the Journal of Race, Gender and Ethnicity. “Eviscerating the Voting Rights Act and Moral Authority: Freedom to Discriminate Comes With a Price” (Journal of Race, Gender and Ethnicity, Volume 7, No. 1, Fall 2015)
After the November election, a number of editorial articles came out with variations on the following theme – that the various depressing voter I.D. laws didn’t actually have much effect on elections. Because hey, the Republicans knocked the elections out of the park, right? That happened despite disproportionately good turnout among minority voters in some elections.
Such editorials are music to the ears of the extreme right (“Yeah. See, we’re not racists. If we were racists, we would have had to turn the firehoses on the swarms of minority voters that voted in the November 2014 federal elections. But we didn’t have to use firehoses or police dogs, or even fire any tear gas into the polling places. Therefore, we have conclusively demonstrated that we’re not racists. Plus, we love democracy. Democracy was very good to us.”) and to the defense attorneys representing the State of Texas in its appeal of Veasey v. Perry et al.
I mean, if an editorial by Nate Cohn in the New York Times, (that notorious hotbed of centrist legal opinions), comes out saying that voter I.D. weren’t no big deal, then the centerpiece of the plaintiffs’ evidence against the State in Veasey is undermined, and the State should walk on all charges, right?
Mr. Cohn’s argument runs like this: It must be the case that 600,000 Texas voters weren’t disenfranchised because if they had been disenfranchised, they would have been turned away from the polls. Since 600,000 people weren’t turned away from the polls, 600,000 people weren’t disenfranchised. Quod erat demonstram. Ipso facto. Res ipse loquitor. Et cetera.
And because only a fraction of all registered voters lack sufficient I.D., (say, 9 percent, or 11 percent, or something like that) it means that voter I.D. laws don’t actually change election outcomes. Right? Right? Because if the bad guy won by 20 percent, then even if all the voters without i.d. had been able to vote (and even if all of them had voted for the bad guy’s opponent), the bad guy would still have won by 11 percent, or 9 percent. Or whatever.
I’ve written about this before, but maybe if I write slower and louder, people will begin to understand.
The secret to getting people not to vote is to discourage them from attempting to vote. And because the cost of voting is so high compared to the benefit, it is very, very easy to discourage people from voting.
And when people don’t vote, they don’t make an ostentatious show of not voting. They don’t gather en masse, carrying placards and linked arm-in-arm at the polling place to not cast their ballot, in a vast silent repudiation of their civic authority. Such mass demonstrations by non-voters would be quite satisfying, if they happened, and would make for some fun political theater. But they don’t happen, because showing up at a polling place to not vote is almost as much bother as showing up at a polling place to vote.
Non-voters don’t go out of their way to proclaim their nonvoting status. They go to work or school. They run errands. They watch T.V. Some of them register to vote, but fail to register on Mr. Cohn’s radar, and so he assumes that they don’t exist. Some of them fail to register to vote, period, and so they don’t even show up in the statistics of “registered voters who lack i.d.”
The authors of the sociological studies at the heart of the plaintiffs’ case in Veasey v. Perry didn’t merely rely on the self-selecting sample of voters who actually go to vote. They called people up and asked them direct questions about their status as voters, and about their inclination to vote or not vote, based on their circumstances.
As it turns out, (as amply demonstrated by our most recent election) disenfranchisement works. It would have been embarrassing to the arch-conservative proponents and apologists for picture i.d. requirements if disenfranchisement hadn’t worked, because it’s actually kind of an administrative pain in the ass to exclude those naughty liberals from the polls, and it costs money to administer draconian voter i.d. laws. Luckily for the right, everything went swimmingly.
Let’s look at the November 2014 elections in one Texas county, and see how disenfranchisement succeeded in that county.
Harris County, Texas
Voters in Harris County had a long ballot to work on this year, in part because this very heavily populated county has an enormous county and district judiciary to handle the legal caseload generated by its roughly 4,330,000 residents. As it seems to happen every four years, the district and county courts were filled by Republican candidates, who pretty uniformly won their seats by consistent margins, just as they had even when Bill White carried Harris County in 2010.
2010 was a watershed year for the county – it was the first Federal decennial census in which Harris County had more than 4 million people. The City of Houston, meanwhile, was estimated to have just a smidge under 3 million people; there’s no doubt that Houston, like much of urban Texas, is experiencing a tremendous population boom. In fact, the county has added roughly 240,000 people or more since the 2010 Census; my guess (and the guess of the U.S. Census demographers) is that the recent population increase skews in favor of Hispanic or Latino residents.
As of the 2010 Census, slightly more than 40% of the Harris County population identified as Hispanic or Latino, while about 33% identified as non-Hispanic white, and about 18.4% identified as non-Hispanic black. As of 2013, those percentages were estimated to work out as 41% Hispanic, 19% Black, and 32% non-Hispanic white.
A lot of people under 18 live in Harris County, so let’s say that only about 72 percent of the total population are voting age. That’s about 3,117,600 voting age people in Harris County as of 2013.
So … how successful have people been at registering Harris County residents to vote? Well, out of those 3.12 million voting-age people in Harris County, only 2.06 million were registered to vote in the November 2014 election. So let’s see, um, that’s a 66% registration rate.
Hmm. Let’s see. In 2002 (a relatively slow gubernatorial election year, with anemic turnout), there were 1.9 million registered voters in Harris County.
But … Wait. What? That’s almost as many registered voters as there are now in that county.
What was the voting-age population of Harris County in 2002? Well, the estimated 2002 population in the county was 3.54 million. Of those, we’ll guess that around 71% were 18 or older (based on the 2000 census data). So that’s an estimated voting age population of 2.51 million in 2002, of whom 1.9 million were registered. That’s a 75.6% registration rate.
I’ll admit that a 75.6% voter registration rate wasn’t spectacular in 2002. But it was definitely better than a 66% registration rate in 2014. If the Harris County Voter Registrar had managed to just tread water with regard to registration between 2002 and 2014, we’d expect that there would be about 2.36 million registered voters in Harris County as of the November 2014 election.
Which works out rather nicely as a shortfall of 300,000 people in the Harris County voting-age population who should have been registered voters (based on historic trends), but who weren’t registered.
Now … from 2002 to 2014, the racial demographics in Harris County basically flipped for white and Hispanic voters. In 2002, about 42% of the voters were non-Hispanic whites, and about 32% of the voters were Hispanic.
What the Texas Republicans realized in 2011 is that they would have to find a way to discourage both voter registration and voting in Harris County, so that while the percentage of non-Hispanic registered voters would remain roughly steady (rising a very modest 8% over the course of 12 years), the percentage of Hispanic registered voters would need to go down. And it would need to go down by a big margin.
The available tools were varied, and ranged from bad-faith purges and registration challenges to outright bullying and strong-arm tactics. But none of those tools would be as effective (in terms of the percentage of potential votes suppressed) as a simple increase in the opportunity costs of voter registration and voting.
This is an area deserving of additional study, but I would hazard that by focusing solely on the suppressive effect of voter i.d. laws as applied to registered voters, studies by the Brennan Center and others have dramatically underestimated the intended and successfully achieved levels of vote suppression generally. The underestimate is the result of failing to consider the suppressive effect of harsh election laws not just on the people who are already registered to vote, but also on the people who haven’t registered yet.
If the suite of laws enacted in 2011 (not just picture i.d., but also restrictions on volunteer deputy registrars, the mealy scrutiny and comparison of error-ridden databases, etc.) managed to drop voter registration in Harris County by around 13%, and the picture i.d. requirement managed to mess up voter eligibility for around 9% to 11% of the remaining 2.06 million voters, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that (in Harris County, at least) that voter suppression succeeded in three ways, by:
(1) trimming the rolls of around 300,000 (mostly minority, poor, or elderly people) who would otherwise have registered to vote;
(2) discouraging another 180,000 to 220,000 registered voters from bothering to vote (the latter group also being disproportionately composed of minorities and the poor), and;
(3) so debasing and screwing up the election experience for everyone else that turnout was at an all-time low (around 678,000 votes cast in the big races, or around 33% of the registered voters).
It starts to look like the Republicans were running up the score in an unseemly way. I mean, if you start with 3.12 million possible voters (more or less), disenfranchise one sixth of those voters (say, around half a million), and then demoralize two thirds of the rest so badly that they don’t bother to come out and vote, well then … voila!
You get an instant Republican grand slam. A mandate for the ages, and an endorsement by our polity of the emerging πρωκτοκρατία (proctocratia, i.e., a form of government known as a proctocracy, administered by proctocrats).
Hey! You there! Candidates in Harris County who lost!
If you lost, and you lost by a margin of around 24% of the vote or less, strongly consider filing an election contest. Remember – such an action must be initiated not later than 30 days after the canvass of your election, by filing suit in district court. Your clock is ticking. Also remember (if you’re feeling a little sheepish about filing such a lawsuit) – that the November 2014 general election was an illegal election.
As for Mr.Cohn of the New York Times, here are some general tips for successfully navigating the confusing world we live in.
Sometimes bad actions are identified by absence, rather than presence. For example, if you are in a coal mine, and most of the canaries have suddenly gone silent, that isn’t proof that the remaining canaries are happy and content. That’s evidence that something is wrong.
“Well, everyone said that when the crew hit that natural gas pocket, it created a poisonous atmosphere. But I heard that at least 32% of the canaries were still singing. Therefore, the natural gas pocket could not have had any measurable effect on the health of the canaries. Q.E.D. Res ipse loquitor. Et cetera, et cetera. Say, does anyone else feel a little light-headed?”
For the last week or so, my old co-worker and Texas county affairs expert Paul Miles has been entertaining me with yet another tie-vote story – (from the June 17, 2014 Corpus Christi Caller-Times; the bulk of the text is unfortunately now behind a paywall) this one out of Kenedy County, in far South Texas. We both found it interesting that the county chair explicitly mentioned to the newspaper reporter that a 20-sided die was available (but sadly not uncovered in time) to resolve the tie vote in a hotly-contested commissioner’s race, which was ultimately settled when both candidates threw five dice each.
For those of you not hip to the ways of polyhedral dice, 20-sided dice are essential, and arguably iconic pieces of game equipment for various popular roleplaying games, but probably don’t get much use in the no-nonsense back country of the Texas frontier.
In the spirit of lightly poking fun at the sometimes baroque lengths that people will go to in casting lots to settled tied elections (and without intending offense toward either of the candidates, both of whom would certainly have preferred to win outright), I offer this: