Question 1): A couple of week ago, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped back from the brink of totally gutting the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA).
By a 5-to-4 vote, in the case of Allen v. Milligan, a coalition of conservative and liberal justices reaffirmed the court’s 1986 precedent interpreting how legislative districts must be drawn under the landmark VRA, as amended in 1982. The court said that in Alabama, a state where there are seven Congressional seats and more than one in four voters is Black, the Republican-dominated state legislature had created only one majority Black district, thus denying African American voters a reasonable chance to elect a second representative of their choice.
Throughout the country, liberals, progressive interest groups and Democrats hailed the unexpected court decision as renewed hope that it will reverberate across other states, with reconsideration of how Congressional and state legislative district lines are drawn in areas with significant Black populations. If that happens, the conventional wisdom is that it will surely help elect more Democrats.
How about in Michigan? What might be the ramifications here? Will it play out the way Democrats hope?
Answer 1): Maybe the opposite. Michigan is not Alabama. Not even close. The Michigan maps in effect for the past two decades — widely reviled by Democrats and the news media as partisan gerrymanders — adhered closely to all past interpretations of the VRA. But then, two years ago, the new Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) came up with new maps based on the 2020 census that reduced the number of majority-minority districts that had existed in Michigan for nearly half a century from two to ZERO. The MICRC also reduced the number of state Senate districts with a Black majority from five to ZERO, and in the state House, from 12 to six. In fact, the Commission argued that NO districts needed to be majority-minority; a plurality was good enough, it claimed. As a result, there is only one African-American in Michigan’s Congressional delegation (Republican John James), and he is from the majority white 10th District in parts of Oakland and Macomb Co. There is none from Wayne County, which has by far the heaviest African-American population in the state. This map is ripe for litigation, yet, amazingly, no such lawsuit has yet been filed against it. One soon may be. Suits HAVE been filed against the two state legislative maps for violating the VRA, and they’re awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision would plainly seem to buttress the argument of the plaintiffs; if they prevail in federal court, and if that court should rule that at least part of the maps must be redrawn (probably by the MICRC) it would seem to give an advantage to the Republican Party, not the Democrats, because it could well lead to CDs and state legislative districts like the ones created by the GOP between 2003 and 2022 that had two majority-minority districts but also gave an advantage to Republican candidates in adjacent districts.
Question 2): Last week, the Democrat-dominated Michigan House of Representatives Elections Committee reported out HB 4156, a bill that would ratify Michigan’s participation in what is called the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact. Sixteen states + the District of Columbia have now ratified the NPV, which would mandate that the electors of any state that is part of the compact must allot its votes in the Electoral College to the presidential candidate who has won the popular vote NATIONALLY, even if that candidate did not win a majority in that state (meaning Michigan). 270 votes are the required minimum number for a majority of the Electoral College to elect a president, and with Minnesota recently ratifying the NPV, the total of states (+D.C.) in compliance has reached the 205 mark. Michigan would bring the total to 220. Republicans in the state Legislature appear almost unanimously opposed to the NPV, while a big slice of majority Democrats appear to support it.
What is likely to happen? Will the Legislature vote to join the NPV? Even if we do, how likely is it that enough other states will join in coming months or years to reach the magic 270 mark? Is it even constitutional? Can a state (that has already joined) at some point in the future RESCIND its participation, thus rolling back the total number of electoral votes needed?
Answer 2): Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Paraphrasing King, proponents of the NPV are convinced “justice” is on their side in Americans’ preference for first-past-the-post winners of a direct popular vote, unfettered by artificial constructs like the Electoral College. There is some evidence to support what NPV acolytes say.
Consider: Before World War I, U.S. Senators were not elected by direct popular vote; they were appointed by state legislatures. Republican Abraham Lincoln actually won the popular vote in Illinois in 1858 when he challenged the incumbent Democrat, U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas, but the Illinois Legislature was controlled by Democrats and appointed Douglas to another term, anyway (Lincoln, of course, got his revenge two years later when he beat Douglas for the presidency). Because of what happened in 1858 and other reasons, pressure rose across the nation to take away state legislators’ power to appoint senators and give it to “the people” — the rank-and-file electorate who could decide whom to elect by direct popular vote. In 1913, that led to the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, mandating the direct election of U.S. senators.
Still, it should be noted that the composition of the Senate and the Electoral College has given Republicans a significant advantage over Democrats for a long time. The reason for that is that there are more small states that are Republican-leaning than there are Democrat-leaning small states, allowing the GOP to claim Senators and presidential electors way out of proportion to their population. Just do the math.
Take Wyoming and New York, for example — the former is Republican, the latter Democratic. New York has more than 30 times the population of Wyoming, yet Wyoming has an equal number of senators (2) as New York. And Wyoming gets those same two extra electoral votes in the Electoral College as New York. That’s one of the reasons why Democrats have lost every single one of the five presidential elections where the loser of the Electoral College vote has gotten a majority or plurality of the popular vote. Those years were 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. In the last four, the Republican nominee was elected president even though he lost the popular vote. Therefore, it’s long been a goal of the national Democratic Party to abolish or end-run the Electoral College, and NPV is the way it has settled on to do it. NPV is a non-profit bankrolled primarily by a Democratic funder, John Koza of California, and other bi-coastal Democratic millionaires and PACs.
In Michigan, Koza & Co. have signed up Ann Arbor Democratic state Rep. Carrie Rheingans as the prime sponsor of the NPV bill (HB 4156), which appears to have some traction. Orchestrating things behind the scenes is former state legislator Rebekah Warren (also D-Ann Arbor), whom National Popular Vote hired when she was still a Michigan lawmaker, to promote the issue in Lansing and a couple of other states.
NPV has also been smart enough to entice a number of prominent Republican names such as former Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, ex-Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, ex-state House Speaker Chuck Perricone, and former state GOP chairman Sal Anuzis to go around the country convincing states to throw their Electoral College votes behind the candidate who receives the highest national vote total. For these Republicans to support NPV is counter-intuitive; history plainly indicates that maintaining the Electoral College gives the GOP a significant advantage in a close race for the presidency. Counter-intuitive? Some cynics suspect money must be involved in getting these men to say the things they’re saying. These token Republicans (none of them now in elected office) claim NPV’s formula would enhance voter turnout (a noble sentiment, right?), and that the only reason that Republicans are being drubbed today in, say, California and New York and other bi-coastal blue states is that the GOP nominee doesn’t bother campaigning there because he knows he can’t win. If we had a national popular vote, say the GOP front men, the Republican presidential nominee would campaign in these large blue states and win the popular vote there.
Such an argument doesn’t make sense. The goal of a political party is not to drive up overall turnout; it’s to get a majority of the voters who DO turn out, whether it’s large or skimpy, and most of the evidence over time is that lower overall turnout, not higher, helps the GOP. Besides, does anybody believe that the modern Republican Party could conceivably win California or New York or Oregon or Washington State, or Massachusetts or Maryland anytime soon, if ever? For that matter, for a Republican presidential nominee to campaign in those states would dry up resources and time that could be used in “battleground” states that the GOP would actually have a chance to win.
Current Republican officeholders “get” that, in Michigan and elsewhere, and that’s why they oppose NPV. Again, note that the Potemkin Village Republicans who have endorsed NPV are not currently in elected office, if they ever were. So the best argument legislative Republicans have against HB 4156 is that it would eviscerate Michigan’s “battleground” status and take away Michigan voters’ rights to determine what impact the state has in a presidential election. NPV would be tantamount to saying, “We don’t even need to vote in Michigan; we should just let the other 49 states decide who wins the popular vote, and we’ll send our electors to vote the same way.” That will be difficult for any Democratic candidate for any office to rebut, in 2024 or 2028 or whenever it might become an issue.
In the meantime, if the Michigan Legislature does in fact vote to join the NPV compact, how might Republicans fight back? Well, they could recapture control of the Legislature and vote to RESCIND or reverse such approval. And what about litigation? Lawsuits would surely be filed against the constitutionality of what Koza, Warren, Rheingans and Anuzis are trying to do with NPV. Remember, term limits in Michigan was aimed at Congress as much as anything else when it was on the statewide ballot (and approved by voters) back in 1992, but a federal judge ruled that term limits could not apply to Congress, which has the sole power to determine the qualifications of its members. Anything can happen in court.
Stay tuned. This could come to a head before the Michigan Legislature breaks for the summer.