With more races being decided by ever-slimmer margins, like in Florida’s gubernatorial and senate elections, increasing attention is being paid to who can and cannot vote, and how difficult the voting process has become for certain Americans. This midterm election was decided in part by widespread voter suppression, and it’s time for Americans to acknowledge how much partisan maneuvering is to blame.
In this summer’s ruling on Abbott v. Perez, Justices Kennedy, Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Roberts continued to maintain the ridiculous farce that partisan gerrymandering has nothing to do with race. This is outwardly true, as partisan gerrymandering is the manipulation of election districts to protect incumbents and stifle opponents’ power based on party affiliation and an area’s voting record, but it ignores the actual effect of this strategy. In ruling that partisan gerrymandering is acceptable, the majority of the Supreme Court continues to ignore the reality that race plays a major role in American politics, making racial gerrymandering partisan, and, often times, vice versa.
What this ruling fails to acknowledge is that racial and partisan gerrymandering are effectively the same thing. With the overwhelming majority of Black voters (87%) and Latinx voters (63%) usually supporting Democratic candidates, weakening the minority vote is equivalent to targeting Democratic voters, and the reverse holds true as well. If an area is majority left-leaning, one can reason that it is either a racially diverse or overwhelmingly minority area, as the majority of white voters are registered Independents and Republicans. As such, weakening the vote of a political party’s most loyal supporters through partisan gerrymandering has the same effect that weakening a community’s vote through racial gerrymandering would have. Previously, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit even went so far as to say that “using race as a proxy for party may be an effective way to win an election. But intentionally targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose.”
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made an active decision to ignore historical context in their rulings, particularly where race is involved. It follows the trend seen in the Citizens United ruling, which says that more free speech and not less should be the goal, without considering that enabling corporations to intervene in elections as if they are real people skews campaign finance to reflect the wishes of the mostly white men in charge of corporations. The decision of the Supreme Court in 2010 that artificial people created on paper should have the same rights as natural people was not only dangerous to our democracy, but a distinct threat to minorities’ civil rights. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Abbott v. Perez is more of the same.
The same can be said for the Court’s decision to ignore the disenfranchisement of Native Americans in North Dakota due to a controversial voter ID law. In October, Justices Roberts, Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor, Gorsuch, and Alito declined to intervene in a challenge to the state’s new law that would require voters to present ID with a current residential address. The new law would disenfranchise almost one-fifth of the voters, including thousands of Native Americans and tens of thousands of other North Dakotans; about 70,000 North Dakota resident are said to lack the proper identification.
There are real consequences when voting rights aren’t protected. Seven states, including Georgia and Florida, had elections for governors who will influence new congressional district maps. In Georgia’s case, there are so many examples of voter suppression that is this election’s results are unlikely to be pushed under the rug. Should any challenges make their way to the highest court in the country, let’s hope it takes the opportunity to cement access to the ballot box as a right, not a privilege.