“Equal representation of the citizenry hasn’t become the enemy of the contemporary Republican Party. It has been the enemy for more than a half-century. Ronald Reagan opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act from the beginning, explaining later that he believed it was “humiliating to the South.” When the act came up for its third renewal in 1982, Reagan’s lawyers in the Justice Department, led by a twenty-something John Roberts, mightily resisted it and much needed amendments to it. When it came up for renewal again, in 2006, the act nearly broke the House Republican caucus in two.
At the center of Republican opposition to the Voting Rights Act is Section 5, described by the historian J. Morgan Kousser as “one of the most innovative governmental mechanisms since the New Deal.” Section 5 stipulates that states, counties and localities with a history of discriminatory voting rules and practices must get permission or “pre-clearance” from the federal government to make any changes to an electoral “standard, practice, or procedure.” With the burden of proof falling on these jurisdictions, it is up to them to demonstrate that the intent or effect of their change is not racial discrimination.
Well-versed in the ingenuity and initiative of white supremacy, the authors of Section 5 understood that equal representation for all citizens required the nationalization of voting standards and preemptive action by the federal government to protect those standards. If local white officials were not stopped, in advance, from “stacking” or “cracking” the Black vote — concentrating Black voters in one district and reducing their power elsewhere or diluting their power by spreading their votes across districts — African Americans would not be guaranteed equal representation in the polity.”
“In 2013, with Roberts now at the helm of the Supreme Court, the Republicans finally achieved their goal, effectively killing Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder. Though the Cornell political scientist Suzanne Metler tells Edsall that the GOP is “a longstanding party that helped to protect democracy until recently,” the wave of Republican racial gerrymanders and voting rights restrictions that we are seeing today was set in motion by leading members of the party more than fifty years ago.”
“Americans associate the Constitution with popular liberties such as due process and freedom of speech. They overlook its architecture of state power, which erects formidable barriers to equal representation and majority rule in all three branches of government. The Republicans are not struggling to overturn a long and storied history of democratic rules and norms. They’re walking through an open door.
The 20th century lulled many Americans into thinking that the Electoral College was a vestigial organ like the appendix. Citizens of the 21st century know better. Having witnessed two presidential elections in which the candidate with the most votes lost, they know that rule by the majority or plurality is not a necessary feature of the presidency. Nor is equal representation: In the Electoral College, the vote of a citizen in Wyoming is worth three to four times as much as that of a citizen in California.”
“Though the Framers rejected the idea of a hereditary body like the House of Lords, they did accept a compromise in which the Senate would represent states rather than individuals. Contrary to popular lore, Madison thought the central concern of those states had less to do with the size of their populations than with the source of their labor, whether it was enslaved or free.”
“While some longstanding, wealthy democracies do have upper chambers, the United States is one of the very few to grant its upper chamber equal power to its lower chamber. The extreme inequality of representation in the Senate, in which the vote of one citizen in Wyoming is equal to that of 67 citizens in California, is even more unique. The combined effect of these twin features of Congress, wrote the distinguished Yale political scientist Robert Dahl, is “to preserve and protect unequal representation” and “to construct a barrier to majority rule.””
“American racial politics, past and present, demonstrates the power of this observation. Between 1800 and 1860, the will of the voting majority was repeatedly expressed in the House, which passed eight anti-slavery bills. The will of the slaveholding minority was repeatedly enacted in the Senate, which stopped those measures. In the first half of the 20th century, the majoritarian House passed multiple civil rights measures — from anti-lynching bills to abolition of the poll tax. Each time, those bills were killed in the Senate.”
“Yet what happened this spring in Oregon is just one example, though perhaps the most extreme one, of a larger trend vexing Democratic strategists and lawmakers focused on maximizing the party’s gains in redistricting. In key states over the past decade, Democrats have gained control of state legislatures and governorships that have long been in charge of drawing new maps — only to cede that authority, often to independent commissions tasked with drawing political boundaries free of partisan interference.
Supporters of these initiatives say it’s good governance to bar politicians from drawing districts for themselves and their party. But exasperated Democrats counter that it has left them hamstrung in the battle to hold the House, by diluting or negating their ability to gerrymander in the way Republicans plan to do in many red states. And with the House so closely divided, Democrats will need every last advantage to cling to their majority in 2022.”
“Since predominantly Black districts are among the safest Democratic seats in the nation, those that become vacant in Republican-governed states tend to stay open longer than any other vacant seats. Indeed, four of the 10 longest House vacancies since 1997 have been in predominantly Black districts”
“Right, but we can’t say, “Republicans are going to call us socialists no matter what, so let’s just run as out-and-out socialists.” That’s not the smartest thing to do. And maybe tweeting that we should abolish the police isn’t the smartest thing to do because almost fucking no one wants to do that.
Here’s the deal: No matter how you look at the map, the only way Democrats can hold power is to build on their coalition, and that will have to include more rural white voters from across the country. Democrats are never going to win a majority of these voters. That’s the reality. But the difference between getting beat 80 to 20 and 72 to 28 is all the difference in the world.
So they just have to lose by less — that’s all.”
“You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like “LatinX” that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like “communities of color.” I don’t know anyone who speaks like that. I don’t know anyone who lives in a “community of color.” I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in … neighborhoods.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you’re talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language.”
“At first glance, Georgia’s law requiring majorities for an outright victory seems inoffensive — the person who wins has to be chosen by most of the people who cast their votes. In theory, this would force candidates to appeal to more voters instead of winning with a large plurality of votes while holding views anathema to the majority of the electorate.
But Georgia’s runoff system has a darker origin: Many historians say it was designed to make it harder for the preferred candidates of Black voters to win, and to suppress Black political power.”
“It effectively began in 1962, when the Supreme Court struck down Georgia’s old electoral system. That older system, called a “county-unit system,” was created 45 years prior to amplify rural voters’ power while disadvantaging Black voters’, and was “kind of a poor man’s Electoral College,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock told Vox.
Forced to come up with a new system, Georgia created one intended to continue undermining Black voters’ influence. That was the runoff system”
“”In 1963, state representative Denmark Groover from Macon introduced a proposal to apply majority-vote, runoff election rules to all local, state, and federal offices. A staunch segregationist, Groover’s hostility to black voting was reinforced by personal experience. Having served as a state representative in the early 1950s, Groover was defeated for election to the House in 1958. The Macon politico blamed his loss on “Negro bloc voting.” He carried the white vote, but his opponent triumphed by garnering black ballots by a five-to-one margin.
Groover soon devised a way to challenge growing black political strength. Elected to the House again in 1962, he led the fight to enact a majority vote, runoff rule for all county and state contests in both primary and general elections. Until 1963, plurality voting was widely used in Georgia county elections””
“Groover wanted to stop Black Georgians from voting as a “bloc” — that is, overwhelmingly for one candidate or party — while white Georgians split their votes among many candidates. In a plurality system, if Black voters were able to keep a coalition behind one candidate, they wouldn’t need the support of many white voters for their preferred candidate to win elections.
The method was popular across the former Confederacy: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas all have general election runoffs. As the Washington Post reported, just two non-Southern states have runoff rules, and those “almost never matter””
“There are some, like Bullock, who don’t believe this was designed to be a racially discriminatory institution, pointing out that the use of runoffs began at a time when Black voters had already been largely eliminated from the voter rolls. Others have said there were good governance reasons for implementing the runoff system.
However, Cal Jillson, a professor at Southern Methodist University, told the Washington Post that most of the states that adopted runoff systems did it to “maintain white Democratic domination of local politics. Letters and speeches that survive from the period show race was very much on the minds of those Democrats who advocated the primary-runoff process. ‘People had no misgivings about stating their real intentions and stating them in racial terms,’” Jillson told the paper.”
“As if to simplify the historical record, decades after Groover fought to institute run-off elections, he admitted: “I was a segregationist. I was a county unit man. But if you want to establish if I was racially prejudiced. I was. If you want to establish that some of my political activity was racially motivated, it was.”
Groover also confirmed that he “used the phrase ‘bloc voting’ as a racist euphemism for Negro voting.” A DeKalb County representative who supported Groover “remembered Groover saying on the House floor: ‘[W]e have got to go the majority vote because all we have to have is a plurality and the Negroes and the pressure groups and special interests are going to manipulate this State and take charge if we don’t go for the majority vote.””
“The system is rigged. It was rigged from the outset, quite intentionally, to favor small states. Under current political coalitions, that’s become an enormous advantage for Republicans. The country’s framers obviously could not have known that they were creating a system that would give Donald Trump’s party an unfair advantage over Hillary Clinton’s party more than two centuries later. But they did create a system that favors small states over large states.”
“Republicans, meanwhile, take their unfair advantage and build on it by gerrymandering the states they control, using their Senate “majority” to fill the courts with Republican judges, and then using their control of the judiciary to bolster their own party’s chances in elections.”
“According to 2018 Census Bureau estimates, more than half of the US population lives in just nine states. That means that much of the nation is represented by only 18 senators. Less than half of the population controls about 82 percent of the Senate.”
“Senate malapportionment is a relic of an unstable alliance among 13 young nations. As Yale law professor Akhil Amar explains, the Articles of Confederation that preceded the Constitution were “an alliance, a multilateral treaty of sovereign nation-states.” The Constitution did not simply change the rules that governed an existing nation; it bound 13 independent and sovereign states together.
The Founding Fathers came together at Philadelphia to achieve union at nearly any cost, because they wanted to avoid the persistent warfare that plagued Europe. Without a union, Amar says, “each nation-state might well raise an army, ostensibly to protect itself against Indians or Europeans, but also perhaps to awe its neighbors.”
Nor was this merely a hypothetical concern. When large states proposed a fair legislature, where each state would be given seats proportional to its population, Delaware delegate Gunning Bedford literally threatened that his state would make war on its neighbors. “The large states dare not dissolve the Confederation,” Bedford insisted, or else “the small states will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith.””
“The Senate does not simply give extra representation to small states, it gives the biggest advantage to states with large populations of white, non-college-educated voters — the very demographic that is trending rapidly toward the GOP.”
“Realistically, the most democratic solutions, such as abolishing the Senate or replacing it with a body that fairly represents all Americans, are off the table in a nation that cannot amend its Constitution. And so we’re likely left with our undemocratic system for a long while, pushing for reform when and where possible, but likely unable to fix the system absent a major political realignment.”