Virginia Republicans back away from ‘three-fifths’ plan for black voters

First the good news: A Senate committee in the Virginia legislature shot down SB 723 — a proposal that would have moved away from one-person, one-vote to a gerrymandered system designed to give suburban and rural voters greater weight in decided state-wide elections.

The bad news, of course, is that Virginia Republicans seriously introduced and considered a proposal to move away from one-person, one-vote in favor of a system that would have discounted votes cast by “urban” voters (wink, wink).

That such a thing was even being considered is, as Josh Marshall says, “A big, big deal“:

Another way of looking at this is that the new system makes the votes of whites count for much more than non-whites — which is a helpful thing if you’re overwhelmingly dependent on white votes in a country that is increasingly non-white.

This all sounds pretty crazy. But it gets even crazier when you see the actual numbers. Here’s a very illustrative example. They’re already pushing a bill to do this in the Virginia legislature. Remember, Barack Obama won Virginia and got 13 electoral votes. But as Benjy Sarlin reported today in a series of posts, if the plan now being worked on would have been in place last November, Mitt Romney would have lost the state but still got 9 electoral votes to Obama’s 4. Think of that, two-thirds of the electoral votes for losing the state. If the Virginia plan had been in place across the country, as Republicans are now planning to do, Mitt Romney would have been elected president even though he lost by more than 5 million votes.

Remember, plans to do this are already underway in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states in the Midwest.

Ohio and Michigan Republicans have decided maybe it’s better not to be seen as the party actively seeking to disenfranchise black voters. The plan to do this here in Pennsylvania seems like it’s probably not going anywhere either.

For a sense of just how appalling and explicit this effort was in Virginia, you have to do the arithmetic, as Paul Bibeau did:

This plan counts the votes of Obama supporters, or Democrats, or “urban people” — Have I used the right code words here? Do we know who we’re talking about? — less than other Virginians.

But you need to do the actual math. … Last election, Barack Obama won 51.16% of the vote. Under the new bill he would have won four of the states 13 electoral votes.

And do you know how much it counts an Obama voter as? (It’s 4/13 divided by 51.16%. I’ll wait. Do it. Get a calculator. …)

It is almost exactly three-fifths.

This bill counts an Obama voter as 3/5 of a person. I don’t know if that fraction rings a bell with you. It was kind of a big deal, way back when. Women in fancy dresses, guys in gray — a lot of gray was in style. Is the light coming on now?

Charlie Pierce did the math too:

There is no point in mincing words. What the Virginia legislature is entertaining now in regards to its election laws is flatly fcking racist.  That it is in response to changing demographics that make Virginia a tough get for the Republicans in presidential elections now doesn’t matter. That it is what we have come to expect from Republican-majority state legislatures around the country now doesn’t matter. That it’s naked opportunism doesn’t matter.  That it may not pass doesn’t matter. This is a legislature acting to devalue African American voters to the advantage of white voters. This is Jim Crow bullshit, and no politician who deals in it, and no political party that continues to support said politician, is worthy of support by decent people in the year 20-goddamn-13.

Jamelle Bouie also sees the Jim Crow parallel:

In addition to disenfranchising voters in dense areas, this would end the principle of “one person, one vote.” If Ohio operated under this scheme, for example, Obama would have received just 22 percent of the electoral votes, despite winning 52 percent of the popular vote in the state.

… This constitutes a massive disenfranchisement of African American and other nonwhite voters, who tend to cluster near urban areas. When you couple this with the move on Monday to redraw the state’s electoral maps — eliminating one state senate district and packing black voters into another, diluting their strength — it’s as if Virginia Republicans are responding to Obama’s repeat victory in the state by building an electoral facsimile of Jim Crow.

And Ta-Nehisi Coates says this is all too familiar for anyone who knows American history:

Efforts to disenfranchise black people, have always been most successful when they worked indirectly. After the initial post-war Black Codes were repealed, white supremacists turned to less obvious modes of discrimination — poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests.

These were cloaked under a colorblind argument — “We don’t discriminate against black people, we discriminate against people who can’t read the Constitution.” By “read the Constitution,” they meant “recite the Bill of Rights by heart.” And they’d ask you to do this after reducing your school funding to a pittance. I say this to point [out] that this is not a “new” racism. This is how [the] scheme went before the civil-rights movement, and this is how the scheme works today.

To see the only other major political party in the country effectively giving up on convincing voters, and instead embarking on a strategy of disenfranchisement is bad sign for American democracy. There is nothing gleeful in this.

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  • Turcano

    As MaryKaye has pointed out, anti-urban prejudice has been a part of society since time immemorial.  Regarding the creation of Kirkwood, MO, Brad Hicks (as usual) put it bluntly:

    See, here’s what James Kirkwood knew: “decent, proper” people all over the world, and in all times, hate big cities. It shows up in sermons from Hesiod’s Works and Days to the New England “divines,” in folk tales from Scotland to Baghdad, in songs from Homeric odes to World War I era pop music, in dramatic fiction from Aristophanes to film noir. “Everybody knows” that decent, honest, pious, honorable people live on farms. “Everybody knows” that nobody lives in big cities, at least not intentionally, except for corrupt politicians and other thieves, perverted “artists” and other prostitutes, greedy “priests” and other beggars. “Everybody knows” that decent, honest, pious, honorable folk treat the big city as a necessary and dangerous evil, a place to leave for in the morning, do whatever business you have to do, but make absolutely sure that you’re safe at home on the farm in the country before nightfall, before the worst of the corruption can infect you.

  • Carstonio

    The outcome and the context are far more important than the intentions. The old literacy tests for voting were aimed at disenfranchising blacks, but there may have been people who favored these from a belief that voters should be able to understand the ballot. If so, they probably failed to recognize that the real problem was illiteracy, and failed to recognize the context.

  •  I know that, what I am saying is that they don’t SEE it.  I live in a city, and I see things like road crews, sewage repair ALL the time.  In less populated areas, those things are there, but they aren’t in your face. 

  • Most rural areas here in my state are served by state troopers, not local cops. 

    The point I am making is not that they aren’t served by government, it’s just not in your face.  When I lived in a small town for two years, I saw road repair crews ONCE.  Living in the city, I see them every day.  I think this causes a disconnect. 

  • Carstonio

    The Southern variant on anti-urban prejudice also involves resentment masquerading as populism. It was a theme in country music before the migration of Southern blacks to urban centers, and long before Toby Keith and Gretchen Wilson. An entire culture afraid that other cultures will consider themselves superior.

  • walden

     re: “Stonewall Jackson”

    Yes they did — but, being Virginia, that was bipartisan.

  • aunursa

    In 2000 the Gore campaign sought to disenfranchise Florida voters serving in the U.S. military.  Since then Republicans have regularly alleged that Democrats seek policies that make it difficult for ballots from military voters to be counted, or that they oppose measures that would correct such problems with military ballots being disqualified, often through no fault of the soldiers.  Play with me and assume for the sake of argument that the Republicans’ allegation has merit.  Given that 75% of soldiers are white, are the Democrats acting out of racist intentions or partisan intentions?  Would the outcome — disenfranching military votes that should count — be racist or partisan?

  • PatBannon

    I’m going to borrow this phrasing, if you don’t mind, but I’m going to use it as furious invective. Much funnier that way.


  • lacked postmarks or witness signatures.

    Gosh, you mean doing basic things like vetting voter cards is OMGDISENFRANCHISING THE MILITARY!?!?!?!?1111oneone

    Come the fuck ON.

    …… You’re reaching, aunursa.

  • aunursa

    You’re reaching, aunursa

    One example…

    In early November, Russell was in the midst of a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean aboard the USS Tarawa…
    Knowing that the mail was slow and undependable, he took pains to mail his ballot early enough so that it would reach Florida by Election Day… “I don’t care how quickly you throw it in the mailbox. It can take up to 30 days to get back to the States. So as soon as I got my absentee ballot, I got it witnessed [and] dated, and threw it back in the mailbox.”
    His ballot arrived at the Duval County elections office Nov. 6, the day before the election… Russell, who is proud of the fact that he had voted in every election since he was old enough to cast a ballot, was infuriated to learn from his wife on Nov. 18 that his ballot had been thrown out by Gore’s lawyers on the grounds that because it lacked a postmark he could have sent it after the election – despite the fact that it had arrived the day before the election.

    There’s much more in the book Down and Dirty.

  • Carstonio

    I interpreted that as simply a petty exercise at immaturity, like they felt they were getting one over on the blacks.

  • CharityBrighton

    You raise a valid point about the abuse of process to rig elections, but I think you kind of missed the point of the original law. 75% of US soldiers may be white, but 75% of white people are not in the military. It’s still wrong, but it doesn’t reduce the influence of white voters to the same degree

    On the flip side, approximately 70% of black and Hispanic people live in urban areas. 

    To create an equivalence between the two (in terms of disparate impact) you would have to have a situation where a Democratic campaign passed a law that diluted the political influence of exurban/suburban areas, which contain about 4/5ths of the white population. In a situation like that, it would be clearly racist because targeting an area that contains almost all of a racial group is functionally the same as targeting that racial group. Targeting the military isn’t quite the same thing; it’s partisan and sleazy but it doesn’t shatter the political power of white people as a whole.

  • Carstonio

    Your insistence in treating every argument as evidence of anti-Republican bias is tiresome. My point wasn’t about any particular party or its history, but about the distinction between intentions and outcomes. The specific tactic in Virginia was grouping black voters into fewer districts, so it’s very fair to characterize the outcome as racism. Racism is not about prejudice or intentions. It’s a systemic concept that results in preferential treatment based on skin color. The Virginia tactic was still racist even if the folks behind it honestly believed that it would increase the power of the black vote or Democratic vote.

    Your comparison of military voters isn’t valid, not because of the party involved, because there hasn’t been a history of pervasive societal discrimination against service members. (The stories of returning Vietnam vets being spat upon were isolated cases, and in almost every case the spitting was done by older veterans and not by anti-war protesters.) And to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a history of either party grouping military voters into fewer districts. Context matters.

  • Carstonio


    Targeting the military isn’t quite the same thing; it’s partisan and
    sleazy but it doesn’t shatter the political power of white people as a


  • LL

    No, voting isn’t difficult for everyone. Some states (like Texas) make it quite easy. We have early voting, meaning you can vote any number of days (including weekend days) before the actual election day. In all elections. 

    In Texas, there really isn’t much of an excuse. I realize not every state has early voting and in some areas it isn’t particularly easy, but that’s not true everywhere. 

  • LL


  • A professor of mine at EMU called Michigan the reddest blue state he’d ever seen. I would tend to agree.

  • British Columbia is kind of like that. The NDP here is somewhat right-wing by Ontario or Quebec standards, in that past NDP governments have favored increasing user fees in about equal proportion to contribution to government revenue as they have increasing income taxes on wealthier people. The 1990s NDP also took a rather law and order stance in response to disruptions in Clayoquot Sound and Gustafsen Lake.

    The main reason for that is while we’re heavily unionized (even by Canadian standards) the jobs for such unions are either concentrated in the public sector and so in larger cities, or in the resource sector, which are not in the cities.

    So you get a person who votes NDP provincially and Conservative federally and doesn’t really care about the supposed dichotomy. :P

  • aunursa

    Your response (except for the first sentence) and that of
    CharityBrighton, are well taken. 
    Nevertheless, I disagree with your statement that racism is not about
    prejudice or intentions.  Racism is about
    prejudice and intention.  Broadly
    accepted definitions of racism include racial discrimination based on
    .  A policy that
    disproportionately affects a certain race may be terrible policy, but it is
    racist only if the intent is based on harming a race.  If the folks behind the Virginia bill believe
    it would increase the power of the black vote, it would not be racist, although
    the effect (decreasing the power of the black vote or Democratic vote) would
    harm the black vote and would be bad policy.

    I’ll try one more analogy to a subject with which I’m quite
    familiar: infant male circumcision.  Laws
    banning circumcision in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Nazi Germany, and Soviet
    Russia were anti-Semitic.  Although the
    laws were applied to everyone, they were anti-Semitic because the purpose of
    the law was to harm Judaism by prohibiting Jews from observing one of their
    most fundamental commandments.  By
    contrast, modern attempts to ban circumcision, for the most part, are not
    anti Semitic.  The purpose of
    circumcision opponents is presumably to protect the interests of the
    child.  Like their historical
    counterparts, current attempts to ban circumcision would apply to everyone (or
    at least to every minor child, not just Jewish children.)  And the effect of such bans would be particularly
    harmful to adherents of Judaism.  But the
    bans themselves are not anti-Semitic, because the motives of
    most circumcision opponents are not based on animosity to Jews or a desire to single
    out the Jewish religion for harm.*  In a
    similar manner, I would maintain that not every policy that disproportionately
    affects a certain race or races – is racist.

    In terms of Virginia elections, the gerrymandered districts
    themselves may be racist if they are based on separating voters by race.

    * It has been my experience that many (not all) circumcision
    opponents are hostile to religion in general, not just Judaism.

  • John Kennel

     I think the problem you’re getting into here is disparate treatment vs. disparate impact. That’s commonly used in employment law but the dichotomy is useful here.

    The proposed law had an effect that would, if the other post’s calculations were correct, disenfranchise almost 3/4ths of the black population.

    That’s what makes it discriminatory. It’s not a subjective standard for the very reason that you describe in your post — it’s almost impossible to know what is really in a human’s mind, and if you had to prove that someone personally hated blacks in order to deem their actions discriminatory then frankly most of the major civil rights cases that Americans are familiar with today would have never been won.

    (After all, by that logic even Jim Crow could not be considered racially discriminatory, as long as you were careful not to say that you wanted it to hurt a specific racial group and were only doing it to protect society as a whole. You want to zero in on intent but intent alone is insufficient — either morally (in my view) or legally.)

  • Carstonio

    The problem with intention is that it diverts focus on the outcome, wrongly making the issue about the person causing the outcome. It’s like someone standing on another’s foot and pleading that zie doesn’t mean to stand there, instead of just moving hir foot. That makes the issue about hir and not about the harm to the other person. No one can truly know another person’s intentions – although educated guesses are possible, we should make assumptions either way.

    What’s racist about the Virginia bill is the disparate impact. The Virginia bill’s sponsors don’t bear the burden of proving that their intention isn’t racist, but they do bear the burden of proving that a measure with this type of disparate impact serves the interests of the citizenry as a whole.

    That principle would apply very easily to a proposed ban on infant circumcision, something I won’t take a position on here. If the vast majority of circumcisions involved Jews and were done for religious reasons and not medical ones, then the burden would be on ban proponents to show why the public interest outweighs the disparate impact. (BTW, most US circumcisions are of non-Jews and are done for medical reasons.) If there were no public interest involved, then such a ban would be anti-Semitic in effect.

  • Carstonio


    it’s almost impossible to know what is really in a human’s mind, and if
    you had to prove that someone personally hated blacks in order to deem
    their actions discriminatory then frankly most of the major civil rights
    cases that Americans are familiar with today would have never been won.

    Exactly. We’re not mind-readers, and often individuals don’t fully understand their own motives for why they do things. The principle in employment law is a good one to use.

  • Julian Elson

    Woah. You’re right. Consider my previous post retracted.

  • aunursa

    I think we’re quibbling over terminology.

    We agree that the Virginia bill is bad policy.  We agree that it would result in disparate impact.  While I am not an expert on disparate impact, a “number of websites (dealing with employment law, not election law) indicate that it is unintentional, contrasted with disparate treatment, which is intentional treatment based on race or other protected category.  It appears that intent may be an element in determining a disparate treatment case but not in a disparate impact case.

    The bottom line is that whether or not the intent of the Virginia bill is racist or merely political, the outcome significantly affects the value of each vote based on race and political affiliation.  That makes it unfair and bad policy.

  • AnonymousSam

    Result is more important than intent, but I like to know if results come about because the one pursuing them is stupid or a hateful jerkass. If it’s the latter, I know better than to give them the benefit of the doubt in the future.

  • Carstonio

    No, the dispute isn’t over terminology. Your posts in this thread suggest that your goal is absolving Republicans of the charge of being racists. While I don’t make that charge myself, I also won’t defend the Virginia group against the charge. They dug their own graves. The only reason to bring up their intent is if one wants to prove that they hate or don’t hate people of other skin colors, and either way that’s unprovable.

  • aunursa

    I do think the dispute is over terminology, specifically the term “racist.”  I understand the term to imply intentional discriminate based on race and because of race.  You seem to define the term to include any policy based on the disparate effect.

    Based on your apparent understanding of the term “racist,” the Virginia bill is racist.  Based on my understanding, it is not.

    I am personally ignorant of Virginia Republicans regarding whether or not they are racist.  Maybe they are racist, maybe not.  Support for this bill does not in-and-of-itself demonstrate racism as it is usually defined or understood.

    That’s all I have to say on this matter.

  • Carstonio


    You seem to define the term to include any policy based on the disparate effect.

    No, the definition I’m using is any system that benefits or penalizes based on skin color. The policy here would create or perpetuate such a system.

    Support for this bill does not in-and-of-itself demonstrate racism as it is usually defined or understood.

    Their support for the bill is despicable no matter what the motives.

  • Carstonio

    A good analogy may be the people who claim not to hate gays but still insist on preserving the “traditional” definition of marriage. They don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt because they still endorse discrimination.

  • What I love is how the military is THE go to cudgel the Republican use to bash Democrats over anything and everything even if what the Dems do is actually within the law and within common sense.

    Since when did wrapping oneself in the flag and being willing to send young people off to war without being in any danger oneself become some kind of badge of honor to be waved around like it was a magic amulet?

  • EllieMurasaki

    If only intentional discrimination by race counts, racism has damn near been eradicated in the US.

    Pro tip: racism has not been anywhere near eradicated in the US. It’s just that most folks who are racist (which is pretty much everybody) are not consciously racist.

  • The_L1985

    “I’ve heard answers like “because when you’re in cities, you have to
    deal with people not like you and it makes you realize they aren’t that
    scary” but that doesn’t seem like it’s the whole picture.”

    I can tell y0u from my own personal experience that it probably is.  When you grow up in a rural area, more often than not, the only people you really see around you are just like you.  Same socioeconomic status, same religious views, same everything.  And that small-town, everybody-knows-everybody feel is The Way Things Have Always Been, so clearly changing it would be bad, simply because you’ve never experienced anything wrong with The Way Things Have Always Been.

    And you hear about different kinds of people outside your little cultural bubble, and they sound so strange, that you just know they can’t be as happy and fulfilled as people in your town, so therefore they must be Wrong.  They’re the Them vs. your Us, the ones who are trying to Change Things, and that makes them scary.

    It is possible to go one’s entire life without ever having this view challenged, either, because poverty is common in rural areas, so most people will never be able to afford to leave long enough to be exposed to anything different.

  • The_L1985

     It still feels weird that anyone was that brazen about it.  It feels like Captain Hammer’s “the hammer is my penis” line.

  • The_L1985

    True, but they don’t see where their taxes go as easily as urban people.  A lot of the time, it takes longer for the potholes in a rural road to be fixed than in an urban road.

    That, and fewer cars on the roads means that they need maintenance less often.  On AL-84 from Enterprise to Elba is a 30-minute drive along a 2-lane road.  During those 30 minutes, you might see 2 other cars.  I know because I used to live there, and still visit family in that neck of the woods at least once a year.  Even compared to Dothan (the biggest town in the area, pop. ~65,000), it’s like night and day.

    On top of that, small towns like that (Elba’s population is 3,000 and falling, Enterprise’s is around 10-15,000) don’t generally have need of a sewer system as badly as cities do.  Instead, each lot has a privately-owned septic tank.  Yes, really.  I remember being taught never to flush anything but toilet paper because the septic tank couldn’t handle it.  When I went through puberty in a Birmingham suburb, my mother saw that I’d been throwing feminine products in the trash, asked me why, then had to inform me that the house we’d moved to was in a more populous area and thus was connected to the city sewer, so it was safe to flush them.

    Parks?  Try “vacant lots” and “privately-owned woods.”  Parks are a city thing, y’all.  In rural areas, there’s plenty of forest and fields to go around, so you already see all the green one needs to stay psychologically healthy.

    Basically, in rural AL, the only 2 of those things you still have that are in need of constant maintenance through taxes are law enforcement and utilities.  I’m sure there are a lot of other rural areas that are very similar (probably most of them are also in the Southeast or the Midwest, surprise, surprise).

  • The_L1985

     Yes, but those forms of government maintenance are less obvious and less visible than in urban areas.*  Rural folks also like to imagine that urban folks are just as much of a drain on government money as they are, and that said poor urbanites aren’t nearly as responsible with said money.

    Cities are constantly portrayed as “too worldly” and as “dens of iniquity” in the sorts of churches that you tend to see in, say, the rural South.  This helps to deaden curiosity about cities, and combined with low rural incomes means that few rural folks ever have or take the opportunity to broaden their horizons by travel even to the next county.

    * See also my response to Lliira’s comment.

  • The_L1985

     Yes, but it was also a case of the South wanting slavery to count in their favor as a status symbol.  The South wanted black slaves–who couldn’t vote, because they weren’t free citizens–to count toward their populations for representative purposes, but not as citizens.  The South wanted to use their slave population to game the system, and the North wisely realized that wasn’t fair.

  • The_L1985

     If you read my responses to Lliira and Charity in re: urban vs. rural areas, you can see where a lot of it comes from.  I’ve lived in rural areas, and I’ve lived in urban and suburban areas.  The differences in culture alone, even within the same state, are striking.

  • The_L1985

     You just reminded me of a Sonic Universe comic.

    “You’re just trying to cut me out of the action so you can hog all the glory!!”
    “Wait, what just happened?  Did he win the argument?”

  • The_L1985

     Frankly, I consider the disparate impact to throw the intentions behind the bill into question.

  • EllieMurasaki

    To be entirely fair, a bill banning sleeping under bridges may simply have the intent of not having debris under the bridges. If there’s some reason to believe the bill’s writers and backers know such a bill would affect rich and poor differently, then yes, their intentions are called into question. If they don’t know, and they might genuinely not know, they need to be educated on the effects their proposed law would have, and it’s their reaction to finding that out that tells us their intentions.

  • I think in today’s environment of increasing social micromanagement in ways that inconvenience people with little access to financial resources, I would suggest that any  legislation with the effect of banning the markers of the presence of human beings (random debris) has the secondary effect of banning the very poor from that area.

    It’s like laws that ban people from being in city parks after dark. There is no earthly good reason for that except to deprive the homeless of a place to sleep.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The law in its majestic equality, and such.

  • AnonymousSam

    In semi-related news: Ugh, Ted Nugent, I didn’t like you in the first place.

  • Nugent Says Obama Has A “Racist Agenda” After Week Of Mainstream Press Praise

    The sheer un-selfconscious chutzpah this displays beggars belief.