GOP Voter Suppression And Gerrymandering Leading To Tyranny Of The Minority
Glen Grothman, an obscure Republican House member from Wisconsin, was remarkably prescient in a prediction he made way back in April of 2016. Grothman predicted that Wisconsin’s new voter ID law would finally put the state in play for a Republican presidential candidate. And, indeed, Grothman was correct as Donald Trump ended up winning the state by a mere 22,000 votes.
A new study out of Wisconsin estimates that between 9,000 and 23,000 voters in Wisconsin’s two largest counties did not vote because of the state’s restrictive voter ID law. Extrapolating the results statewide means that around 45,000 voters around the state were kept from voting by the new law. While it is impossible to know exactly who those disenfranchised voters would have voted for, prior studies of voter ID laws show that it abnormally restricts younger, newly registered, and minority voters, all of whom are normal Democratic constituents.
Wisconsin has been ground zero for the largely successful Republican efforts to maintain power by aggressive partisan gerrymandering and restricting the franchise for Democratic constituencies. The Republican tactics in the state have finally generated a Supreme Court case that challenges the partisan gerrymandering that manages to keep Democrats in the minority in the legislature despite winning the majority of the vote. For example, in the 2012 elections, Democrats won 53% of the vote across the state but ended up with just 40% of the seats in the Wisconsin Assembly.
In her outstanding debut op-ed piece in the NY Times today, Michelle Goldberg highlights the fact that our current electoral system, enshrined in the Constitution, has empowered “the tyranny of the minority”. This is not just the Constitutional protections for the minority party in government, but rather our electoral system has allowed the minority to actually end up as the majority. In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes than Donald Trump but did not become President. Democrats won over 50% of the votes for the House of Representatives but Republicans ended up with over 55% of the seats.
As one constitutional scholar notes, “Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50 percent of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states. Roughly half the country gets 80 percent of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20 percent.” It is now estimated that even an eight point preference for Democrats in the 2018 election may still not be enough to overcome partisan gerrymandering and retake the House. And it is not going to get any better anytime soon. Sherrod Brown warns that Democrats could win the popular vote by 5 million and still lose the Presidency in the Electoral College. It is estimated that, by 2040, just 30% of the population would live in 35 states, meaning that 30% would have a veto and filibuster-proof margin in the US Senate over 70% of the population.
Goldberg’s solutions, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact that awards a state’s electoral votes to the popular vote winner and the Fair Representation Act that would eliminate current House districts and replace them with larger districts with multiple representatives, allowing for more diverse views and third party representation, do not appear to enacted any time soon. Small states will surely not be interested in abandoning the Constitution’s small state bias. And neither effort would do anything about the radical gerrymandering that keep state legislatures under GOP control.
Goldberg hints at the danger this situation presents to the stability of our democracy, citing a poll that shows a third of California residents actually favor secession. Should that happen, you can be sure other large Democratic states would also follow suit. That would probably be the most peaceful solution but it is hard not to see that other disenfranchised and under-represented voters might choose a more violent path.
To let Goldberg summarize, “Our Constitution has always had a small-state bias, but the effects have become more pronounced as the population discrepancy between the smallest states and the largest states has grown…But America is now two countries, eyeing each other across a chasm of distrust and contempt. One is urban, diverse and outward-looking. This is the America that’s growing. The other is white, provincial and culturally revanchist. This is the America that’s in charge.” Under our present electoral system, it is hard to see how this house will still stand.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on September 26, 2017.