SATURDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2022
Redistricting and race: Doggone it! Our Internet Service Provider has been struggling of late. For that reason, we have no real fish today.
As we waited today to see our service restored, we continued to struggle with Charles Blow's recent column about Ron DeSantis. We think the column raises some basic questions about the way our floundering blue tribe deals with issues of "race."
In part, we refer to our tribe's strong inclination to find a racist (sexist / misogynist / homophobe / xenophobe) under every bed. Blow's insistence that he wasn't calling DeSantis a racist, when he rather plainly was, strikes us as an example of the deeply unhelpful place to which this inclination has taken us.
Beyond that, Blow was writing about the role race and ethnicity should play (or possibly shouldn't play) in matters of congressional districting. In this hopelessly complex arena, questions like these arise:
Should state legislatures seek to create "majority minority" districts? To what extent should they seek to do this, if they should do it at all?
Are states required to create such districts by parts of the Voting Rights Act? If so, are those parts of the Voting Rights Act consistent with constitutional principles?
Other questions come into play, based in part on a shaky assumption. That shaky assumption goes something like this:
A shaky assumption
If Democrats constitute (something like) 40 percent of a state's electorate, Democrats should hold (something like) 40 percent of that state's House seats.
On its face, that idea may seem quite fair, but our system doesn't work that way. For an example of what we mean, consider the House delegation which resulted from California's congressional elections in November 2018.
California had 53 House seats at that time. This was the total vote, statewide, in those 53 elections:
Votes for Democrats: 8.01 million
Votes for Republicans: 3.97 million
Republican candidates received almost exactly one-third of the statewide vote. But did Republicans receive one-third of the congressional seats? In fact, the California congressional delegation ended up exactly like this
Democrats: 46 members
Republicans: 7 members
Republicans received one-third of the votes—but roughly one-eighth of the seats! There's nothing in our laws or traditions which says it can't happen that way.
Indeed, in a state whose electorate was split 60-40, there's no obvious reason why the larger of the two parties couldn't win all the state's House seats. It doesn't normally happen that way, but there's no reason why it couldn't.
That may not seem like a "fair" approach, but no law or rule regulates such outcomes. It's a bit like that with the question of "majority minority" districts:
In many urban areas, population densities make such districts inevitable. Here on our own sprawling campus, our own 7th congressional district "has been drawn as a majority-African American district since 1973."
(We're currently repped by Kweisi Mfume, former head of the NAACP, who succeeded the late Elijah Cummings.)
Our district didn't have to be drawn that way, as you can see from the district's unmistakably "gerrymandered" appearance. Elsewhere, population densities create majority-black or majority-Hispanic districts without any help from the people who draw up congressional maps.
To what extent should legislatures seek to create majority-minority districts (or their functional equivalent)? The answer to that question isn't nearly as obvious as Blow made it sound in his column—but then, he was busy pleasing the base by declaring that DeSantis had shown his racist stripes in Florida's recent redistricting.
(The Others are a gang of racists! It's the one message our tribe seems to have at this point, and there's a good chance that it doesn't help.)
On Monday, we'll try to pursue this topic further. Our nation is breaking apart on the rocks, and questions like these lie at the heart of the way that nation, such as it ever has been, seems to on its way down.