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The SCOTUS Will Soon Decide if Republicans Can Cheat

Cases on gerrymandering and the new Census citizenship question will shape the political playing field

Polls show an overwhelming preference for fair, nonpartisan voting maps.(Photo: Common Cause NC/Twitter)

Polls show an overwhelming preference for fair, nonpartisan voting maps. (Photo: Common Cause NC/Twitter)

The Republican Party and rightwing groups have worked for years to solidify their hold on power at every level of government by cheating young people, minorities, and other likely Democratic voters out of their right to have their votes count.

Very soon, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide on two cases that will determine whether the cheating can go on, or whether the government will enforce a more level playing field in the 2020 elections and beyond.

One of these cases involves the Trump Administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

We now know that the late Republican strategist Thomas B. Hofeller drafted Justice Department language claiming that the citizenship question would help protect minority voting rights at the same time as he authored a study showing the measure’s true intent was just the opposite: to suppress minority votes in a way “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” as Hofeller himself put it.

The citizenship question will “allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats,” The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is also deciding partisan gerrymandering cases from North Carolina and Maryland, and is expected to rule by the end of June on whether those maps, drawn by Republican legislatures in order to consolidate their own power, violate the U.S. Constitution.

While it is making up its mind on the North Carolina and Maryland cases, the Court recently put a hold on lower-court orders to redraw gerrymandered maps in Ohio and Michigan—suspending the rulings of federal judges in those two states who had ordered Republican legislatures to redraw egregiously unfair maps. In Ohio, Republicans won three-fourths of the state’s Congressional seats, even though voters statewide were split evenly between the two major parties.

Other states, including Wisconsin, are also awaiting the Supreme Court’s upcoming gerrymandering decisions, as citizens hold their breath to see what will become of their own gerrymandered maps and the inflated Republican majorities they keep in power.

In 2011, Wisconsin went through the nation’s most secretive, partisan redistricting process. Millions of public dollars went to the Republican attorneys hired to defend the state’s gerrymandered maps. These were overturned in federal court, and will be taken up again in July.

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Not only Republicans gerrymander, but the Dems have not been nearly as bold.

Not only Republicans gerrymander. Democrats in Illinois, New Jersey, and other Democratic states have also drawn partisan maps to suit their own ends. But the Democrats have not been nearly as bold as the Republicans, who have combined voter ID, limited voting hours, and other strategies to subvert the will of the people.

The result of this strategy is visible in public policies that lack majority public support, from draconian abortion laws that threaten to punish women and doctors (despite solidly pro-choice majorities in the states that passed these laws), from the rollback of environmental protections and labor rights by corporate-friendly politicians who are contemptuous of the public good, to power-grabs by Republicans in Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, where Republican legislators who used their gerrymandered majorities to reduce the power of governors were elected in statewide races.

One of most devious of these strategies is the addition of the new citizenship question on the Census. But even before the leak of the documents demonstrating that the Trump Administration was using voting rights as a fig leaf to hide its plan to disenfranchise voters, state-level Republicans were caught talking about flagrantlying trying to rig the system, and expressing their delight at suppressing Democratic votes.

The public does not support these maneuvers. Instead, polls show an overwhelming preference for fair, nonpartisan voting maps.

A recent poll in Wisconsin showed that 72 percent of Wisconsinites—including 63 percent of Republicans—say we should have nonpartisan redistricting. When Democratic Governor Tony Evers put an Iowa-style nonpartisan redistricting process in his state budget, he helped draw attention to the issue statewide.

Forty-seven of Wisconsin’s seventy-two counties have now passed resolutions supporting nonpartisan redistricting—mostly in areas that went for Donald Trump.

No matter what the Supreme Court decides this month, there is widespread public disapproval of cheating. In the long run, that will catch up to politicians who try to rig the system to stay on top.

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Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is editor of The Progressive magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @rconniff

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