In U.S Court cases could resolve election reforms
Californians have struggled to improve the state’s electoral process, to make it less partisan and public officials more receptive for more than two decades.
In 1990, after fits and starts launching, state voters approved an independent reallocating commission, open primaries and term limits that now allow state legislators to serve up to 12 years.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court could significantly reducing the reform effort with its review of two redistricting cases, one out of Arizona, the other out of Texas, and both with profound implications for California and the nation.
The legal issues seemingly had already been settled by the high court, but they’re now being reopened in cases brought by conservative groups with partisan agendas.
Ironically, notes UC Irvine professor Richard Hasen, an election law expert, those groups are asking the Supreme Court to limit state discretion, undermining federalism principles conservatives usually accept.
The Arizona case challenges voters’ creation of an independent redistricting commission. The U.S. Constitution vests power to set rules for congressional elections with state “legislatures.”
At issue is what the Founding Fathers meant by that word. Previously the high court has interpreted it broadly for states like Arizona and California, where constitutions give the people legislative power through an initiative process. But in oral arguments in March, the court seemed prepared to adopt a literal interpretation.
Justice Elena Kagan correctly warned that changing course could endanger other voter-approved rules for congressional elections. In California, that might mean a challenge to the state’s top-two primary.
California reformers were already concerned about the pending Arizona case when the high court upped the ante in May, announcing it would hear next term a Texas case reopening debate over the legal principle of “one person, one vote.”
The plaintiffs contend that legislative redistricting there is defective because it aims to equalize districts based on total population, rather than the number of people registered or eligible to vote.
In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that each state had caution to choose its method. Now the justices appear ready to reconsider. Most states, including California, draw districts based on total population. Depending on how the justices rule, the Texas case could eventually also affect congressional redistricting.
Forcing states to draw boundaries based on only eligible or registered voters would shift political power away from geographical areas with higher concentrations of children and noncitizen immigrants. In California, that could mean a reduction of influence for Latinos and for urban areas.
It’s unfortunate that, just when California looked to have reached reasonable resolution on election reforms, the high court could explain it.