As you might expect, I am in complete agreement with my occasional co-bloggers James Joyner and Steven Taylor that while in principle the residents of the District of Columbia ought to have the right to vote for representatives (and, for that matter, senators)*, the proposed way of doing so—by passing a piece of ordinary legislation, allegedly pursuant to Congress’ plenary police powers over the District—is so blatantly unconstitutional I’m almost surprised members of Congress can vote for it while maintaining a straight face.
While I’m not convinced that we actually need a separate capital district in this day and age—other federal republics, such as Canada and Germany, seem to function perfectly well without a distinct federal district—as long as we have one we really ought to follow the rules. And, as I’ve noted before, the rules themselves are not so onerous as to justify bypassing them—if they were, the Constitution never would have been amended to give D.C. residents the right to choose presidential electors in the first place, during an era when the idea of granting voting rights for the district’s largely African-American population was much more politically contested than it is today.
* Note that this is a subtly different statement than “D.C. should have the same representation as a state,” a dubious proposition at best; there is no reason why D.C. residents couldn’t be treated as residents of Maryland (or for that matter Virginia or Wyoming or California) for the purpose of reapportionment and voting in federal elections but not otherwise be subject to state law.
Everyone’s favorite “do as we say, not as we do” left-wing advocacy group, ACORN, which is usually in the news for its shabby treatment of its own employees while advocating higher labor standards for everyone else, is in trouble here in St. Louis after around 1500 potentially fraudulent voter registration cards were discovered in recent weeks, many of which have been traced back to canvassers hired by the group.
The New York Times reports on the bizarre case of Democratic party operative Ike Brown of Noxubee County, Mississippi, who faces a federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act for suppressing the voting rights of whites. Probably the most fascinating passages in the article, which read like something out of a 1960s era lawsuit with the races reversed:
Mr. Brown is accused in the lawsuit and in supporting documents of paying and organizing notaries, some of whom illegally marked absentee ballots or influenced how the ballots were voted; of publishing a list of voters, all white, accompanied by a warning that they would be challenged at the polls; of importing black voters into the county; and of altering racial percentages in districts by manipulating the registration rolls. ...
The Justice Department’s voting rights expert is less reserved [than local white residents]. “Virtually every election provides a multitude of examples of these illegal activities organized by Ike Brown and other defendants, and those who act in concert with them,” the expert, Theodore S. Arrington, chairman of the political science department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, wrote in a report filed with the court. ...
There are so few whites in the county, Mr. Brown suggests, that the tactics he is accused of are unnecessary to keep blacks in office.
“They can’t win anyway unless we choose to vote for them,” he said with a smile. “If I was doing something wrong — that’s like closing the barn door when the horse is already gone.”
Of course, the key point of practices like the white primary in most of the South wasn’t to prevent blacks from outvoting whites per se—even in the early 20th century before extensive outmigration of African-Americans, whites typically outnumbered blacks in most counties outside the “black belt” plantation counties—but instead to ensure that blacks and lower-to-middle class whites would not form cross-racial voting coalitions in support of white or black candidates that would displace the local elites from office.
Assuming white block voting for white candidates, even in a county that’s 75% black like Noxubee white candidates could win elections with 30–40% black support depending on the turnout ratio… so, if techniques like pressuring blacks through appeals to racial solidarity to also block vote against white candidates breaks down, the illegal tactics Brown is accused of orchestrating would be very helpful in maintaining and/or expanding control of elected offices.
þ Rick Hasen.