Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Numbers

Michael Barone instructs us, again, as to why elections are important to us not just for ideological reasons. That is, they are important not only because the candidates we elect represent, we hope, what we think government should and should not do, and then legislate accordingly. They are also important for structural reasons, and this is especially true at the state level.

As you know, 2010 has been a national census-taking year. Most of us have filled out the form by now. Our every-ten-years national census is a constitutional requirement. Its purpose is to determine the apportioning of the 435 seats that make up the U.S. House of Representatives. Our Founders decided that representation in that body, to be most fair, must be according to population. "One man, one vote" is the shorthand phrase that captures the idea that we all must be represented more or less equally in the House. The Constitution mandates that no state shall have less than one representative in the body. So, sparsely populated states like Wyoming will get one representative, regardless of its population relative to the other states. While states with big populations, like California, will get many more. The census will determine if they get more than they did ten years ago, or fewer. Ohio, which has suffered a population loss relative to the other states, will likely lose a seat or two.

But that's only part of the problem. Within each state, for the principle of "one man, one vote" to hold, the voting district lines will have to be redrawn to accommodate shifting demographics. In my state of North Carolina, the census will tell us whether relatively more people now live in Charlotte than in the Raleigh-Durham area, for example, and the district lines will have to be redrawn accordingly.

This is where raw political power comes in. How do you draw those lines? Again, according, to the Constitution, they must be drawn such that people are represented more or less equally. But, as we know, some areas of a state are more heavily Democrat in their party orientation and others more Republican. Is it possible to draw the lines in a manner such that a particular district might end up with relatively more Democrat than Republican voters and vice versa? You bet it is.

Imagine a state in which the voting population is split exactly down the middle in its party orientation. Imagine also that, after the census results are in, it learns it will be apportioned 10 representatives to the U.S. House. All things being equal, we would expect there to be five districts that tend Democrat and five that tend Republican. But all things are rarely equal, and how those district lines are drawn might make the actual outcome 6-4, or even 8-2, to the advantage of one party over the other.

So, who draws the lines? Each state is different, but it boils down to whoever controls the state legislature and the governorship. Can you see now how very important state and local elections are?

Back to Barone. He thinks that what appears likely to happen during this fall's elections will redound greatly to the Republicans favor, not only ideologically, but in this structural area as well. The GOP, as a result of the election outcome, will likely control more state legislatures and more governorships than previously. This will put them in charge of redrawing the district lines once the census results are in. Significantly, once redrawn, these new lines forming new districts will remain steady until the next census is taken ten years from now.

Barone's a conservative, to be sure, but he's also an honest analyst. So, I don't think he's just trying to be a cheerleader. His analysis, however, does not counsel complacency. To the contrary, it demonstrates how very critical our vote this fall will be, and not just our votes for those running for national office.

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