By now you may have heard that the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down a pair of rulings related to voting rights. In the first, it declined to set limits on partisan gerrymandering. In the second, it determined that a question asking about citizenship status will, for now, not appear in the 2020 U.S. census.
Essentially, the Court handed voting rights a long-term defeat, followed by a short-term victory. The first decision said the courts cannot protect Americans from partisan gerrymandering. We’re disappointed, but we’ve known that regardless of this ruling, the drive for fair districting will continue. Voting Rights Advocates already know that elections matter; now it’s up to all of us to remind our friends and neighbors of this so that initiatives and policies to protect our vote at the state level can become reality.
The second decision said that the government’s rationale for adding the citizenship question did not match the evidence. This gave the Court a reason to send the issue back to a lower court, and also made the inclusion of the question on the 2020 census a long shot.
An important note: The Court did not say that the citizenship question was inherently unconstitutional. This means if a future administration decides it wants to add the question – and they do not lie about its reasons based on the available evidence – then a citizenship question can still happen down the road.
For Nebraska, the absence of a citizenship question means one less barrier to a full, accurate count across our vast and rural state. Adding a question would have a chilling effect on and depress responses from immigrant households, which would open up the very likely possibility of a significant undercount.
A full, accurate count is vital to states like ours. With more than one-third of our state budget coming from federal funds, every Nebraskan – every one of us – would feel the effects of an undercount. One that misses by just one-tenth of a percent would cost the state an estimated $400 million.
While we’re pleased with the ultimate outcome of the census ruling, we are taking nothing for granted.
Civic Nebraska is among a growing coalition of partners who will do everything possible to make sure our state counts in 2020. As a Voting Rights Advocate, you are already strongly motivated to organize around the census, which will have a ripple effect on voting rights issues for the next decade. You are our boots on the ground who are able to quickly organize other area Advocates; who can mobilize others in your community; and who can join us in building strategies and sharing information.
Let us know if you’re ready to get involved in this issue. Write a quick note to Field Director Brad Christian-Sallis at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll connect you to resources and others in your area who will be organizing for a full, accurate count in the coming year.
As Nebraskans, it’s our duty to defend our democracy, our voices, and our rights as Americans. The Court has spoken. Now, it’s time to say that Nebraska counts!
Thanks for all that you do,
John Cartier, J.D.
Director of Voting Rights