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.

"Someone has used it:"

And his own received him not
"I suspect he "picks and chooses" (*grins*) to find the best balance between accuracy of ..."

And his own received him not
"Based on what Fred's written in the past, I think he classifies Douglass as a ..."

And his own received him not

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • One has to wonder if this is history repeating itself as farce.

  • Carstonio

    Good historical perspectives. Here is another one:

    conservative white Southerners…think they are the real Americans —
    that is, old-stock British-Americans — and the adherents of the true religion, evangelical Protestantism. In this perspective, the rest of the country was taken over by invading hordes of Germans, Irish and other European tribes in the first half of the 19th century…it is difficult, if not impossible, for many white Southerners to
    disentangle regional culture (Southern) from race (white) and ethnicity (British Protestant). The historical memory of white Southerners is not of ethnic coexistence and melting-pot pluralism but of ethnic homogeneity and racial privilege. Small wonder that going from the status of local Herrenvolk to local minority in only a generation or two is causing much of the white South to freak out.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Nothing to do about it but get angry and raise hell.

  • aunursa

    Several conservative pundits have agreed that this is a terrible idea…

    HotAir: Rigging the election for beginners
    Michael Barone: Virginia Republicans’ dumb idea

  • LL

    I don’t suppose Republicans see it as a sad irony that the only reason they’re in a position to suggest straight-up racist schemes to ensure a “win” for a Republican in the next presidential election is because the very voters they seek to disenfranchise handily disenfranchise themselves in all the other elections by not bothering to vote, so that the votes of the racist white rural and suburban voters essentially carry more weight than they otherwise would. 

    If blacks and Latinos and younger people voted in municipal and off-year elections in the same numbers as they do in the presidential elections, there’d be no Republican “majorities” in many of the currently “Republican” states and a lot of this shit would stop. I’d personally like it to stop sooner rather than later. The old racists aren’t dying off fast enough for my liking. 

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I hope you mean the idea is “terrible” as in immoral and undemocratic, and not, as per your links, “terrible” as in short-sighted (Barone) or “terrible” as in bad optics (HotAir).

  • aunursa

    The Republican governor and two Republican senators on the relevant committee opposed the plan.

  • histrogeek

    I hate the electoral college and wish it would be relegated to the dustbin of history and replaced with a purely popular vote. That said until the entire system is eliminated, this is some transparently hardcore bullshit.  

  • Kaylakaze

    It seems like you’re late to the dance. This was phase 2 of the Redmap plan. Phase 1 was the theft of the House in this past election.

    But this isn’t much different than the electoral college, except on a more local scale.

  • other lori

    Michigan is thinking of implementing a similar plan. I am not pleased. It’s bad enough as it is, that a state that is pretty solidly blue has an ultraconservative legislature because of gerrymandering.

  • HotAir makes some strong points, but it does kind of bother me that they kind of wave off the whole “cheating” argument in favor of pointing out that it makes Republicans look bad:

    Is that really how you want to win for one or two cycles? Isn’t it better to make a solid case for conservative values and win on the merits?

    If a few GOP state officials passed a law that made it illegal to register as a Democrat (or vice-versa, to be fair) , it would be better to condemn that as an unwarranted assault on the 1st Amendment rather than merely pointing out that it looks bad from a campaigning standpoint to actually pass laws specifically designed to impair the ability of likely opponents to vote.

    (the other linked article is even worse; they don’t even bother addressing the ethics of the proposal at all, instead focusing on the mere fact that VA is a swing state and the proposal could harm Republicans in the future. Because, you know, it wouldn’t be a big deal if they could set it up so that it only hurt Dems, right?) 

    I did like that line from HotAir about making a solid case on the merits. That’s something that’s kind of missing from our politics; yes, I already know that the other side is scary and dangerous, but I want to hear about your ideas too. Politicians shy away from giving concrete policy details as a matter of principle, because they don’t want to make commitments and find out that it’s going to be politically impossible to keep them (“I’m going to close Guantanamo!” being a famous recent example). 

  • aunursa

    I think it’s a terrible idea because the Republicans are trying to manipulate the election via a method that they would never support if they expected the result to harm their chances.

     And I think it’s a terrible idea because there should be a single national standard for the presidential election.  If it continues to be based on the electoral college, then each state should have the same standard for determining how it apportions its electoral votes.  Each state should give all its votes to the state’s popular vote winner.  Or each state should apportion its votes by electoral district.  Or each state should have the same type of hybrid combination.  I oppose the way Maine and Nebraska currently apportion their votes, because they differ from the other forty-eight states.

  • The only way Republicans can win is to cheat. We’ve allowed them to get away with blatant gerrymandering for decades, so of course they think they could get away with this.

  • walden

    While this move is dead (for now), the shenanigans are far from over. 
    In particular, the stealth redistricting of the Virginia Senate by a 20(R)-19(D) vote on Martin Luther King Day/Inauguration Day, and which would give the Rs a 6-seat advantage, was done while a 79-year old black Virginia State Senator was attending the inauguration in DC, and was introduced, sent to the floor and passed with only 30 minutes for debate. The House of Delegates and Governor (both Rs) have not said what they’ll do with it.  But it’s a gerrymander to be sure, and done by stealth.
    “Whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are honest — think on these things?”

  • Or each state should apportion its votes by electoral district.

    Michigan Republicans wanted to do this in the last election, but couldn’t ram it through. If they had done it, Romney would have won Michigan’s electoral votes, even though he lost the popular vote by 75,000 votes. That’s what gerrymandering has done to Michigan, all in favor of Republicans. Doing this would certainly favor whoever cheated best. And lest Republicans forget: in the early 20th century, that was Democrats. Depending on cheating is working for them quite well these days, but it WILL bite them in the rear soon enough.

  • If blacks and Latinos and younger people voted in municipal and off-year elections in the same numbers as they do in the presidential elections, there’d be no Republican “majorities” in many of the currently “Republican” states and a lot of this shit would stop. I’d personally like it to stop sooner rather than later. The old racists aren’t dying off fast enough for my liking. 

    I think, rather what would happen is that, if the voter turnout rate for all elections were high (at least, as high as it is during most Presidential elections), political parties would be pulled to the middle as a general rule. Part of the reason why there is so much extremism is because — apart from the Presidential election — most other races are decided by a tiny fraction of the electorate. Michele Bachmann probably couldn’t be elected President even if only Republicans voted in every state, but she can certainly appeal to 50.1% of the 48% (at the most) of voters who participate in most Congressional elections. That’s a tiny sliver of the population, less than a 1/10th of the population of her district. If more people voted, she still might be elected but she couldn’t go around accused random people she passes in DC of being Islamic terrorists. You might be able to find a few hundred thousand people who are into that sort of thing, but not 500,000 people. 

  •  Racist? Probably not. Anti-democratic? Yes. Partisan? Definitely.

  • It’s hardly Maine and Nebraska’s faults that the rest of the states are doing it wrong.  We’re setting as good an example as we can, you know.

  • Robyrt

    Assigning votes by district is not inherently bad – Maine and Nebraska do it without real complaint. The real problem is the partisan gerrymandering that creates a bad list of districts.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Maine and Alaska, at least, are apportioning by raw popular vote percentages. Going by electoral district favors whichever party most recently jerrymandered those districts and still can (will) lead to the popular loser gaining more electoral votes.

  • aunursa

    I could support either (a) Maine and Nebraska changing their systems to align with the other 48 … or (b) the other 48 changing their systems to align with Maine and Nebraska.

  • P J Evans

     I’d like to see the RICO act used on them. They so deserve it.

  • stardreamer42

    Just like the only way Creationists can come up with “scientific evidence” is to flat-out make shit up. Is anyone really surprised by the similarity?

  • stardreamer42

    Racist, hell yeah. The dog-whistles in the language are deafening, and they all say “black voters”. The fact that as a side effect it also targets n****r-lovers liberal whites, who also tend to congregate in urban areas, is lagniappe.

  • Antigone10

    What, exactly, do Republicans have against cities?  I’m not talking from the political perspective- ie that they are perceived to be full of Democrats and the better than even odds that racism plays a factor, but what is their stated reason for not liking cities?

    Our culture is defined by the cities.  The majority of our population lives in cities, and the majority of our money is made in cities.  How did it become “not real America”?

    While I’m on this random question train- why are rural areas consistently more conservative and cities consistently more liberal?  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.  

  • Madhabmatics

     Man if you don’t think “urban” is a code-word for something, you should go read freep for about an hour

    or go through the archives of this website where the republican politician wanted to keep urban people from voting, and then literally told people “and by Urban I mean black.”

  • LL

    Your problem is you’re thinking it should make sense. It doesn’t. But the Republican party gets votes when the white people who support it are scared of the “urban” black and Latino and gay hordes taking over, taxing all their hard-earned money away and making everybody get gay married. Or making everybody get abortions. Or something. Like I said, it makes very little sense. 

  • banancat

     Yeah, that idea is full of goodfeels and empowerment, but the reality is that voting is difficult for everyone, but especially for the people who tend to vote Democratic.  There are so many reasons why voter turnout is low in off-year elections, and especially low for liberals, and all the encouraging rants on the internet won’t fix those underlying issues.  And that’s not even considering the problem that there are often no good candidates to begin with because a (D) behind a name doesn’t guarantee a progressive.

  •  Your interpretation of the evidence seems plausible.

  • IMO, when you live in a city, you see every day how government can work for you, because cities are not possible without governance of some sort.   Road repairs, sewage systems, utilities, local law enforcement, parks, public transport. 

    Rural areas are more divorced from that reality, because they have fewer needs to be served, they don’t see as much active governance. 

    Since the entire premise of the modern Republican party is that government can not and will not work for the average citizen, this disconnect plays a lot into that. 

  • SisterCoyote

     I’m glad that you disagree with it for those two reasons. But, and I am honestly not trying to be aggressive here – does it not also bother you that it’s blatantly racist? That the Republicans – at least, these Republicans – seem to have decided that they’d rather keep minorities’ votes from counting than actually try to reach out to them?

  • MikeJ

     Please point to these extremist Democrats in congress. There are two parties in the US. A moderate right wing party and an extremist right wing party.

  • Rural areas are more divorced from that reality, because they have fewer needs to be served

    That’s just not true. Rural areas have road, sewage, utilities, local law enforcement, parks, and many even have public transport. Further, if the roads are cut off, most people in rural areas are in far deeper trouble than people in cities are in a similar situation. You cannot walk to the grocery store in rural areas. 

  •  Please point to these extremist Democrats in congress. There are two parties in the US. A moderate right wing party and an extremist right wing party.

    Did I mention extremist Democrats? 

  • That’s not really true though. Rural areas actually tend to receive pretty high levels of support.  The federal government has poured billions into the economic development of rural America, ranging from rural electrification in the 30s to broadband access in the past decade. The feds set aside funds to encourage development specifically in rural areas, including housing development and business investment; these programs are often extremely generous, such as USDA-guaranteed home loans with subsidized interest rates. 

    And when it comes to welfare programs, rural areas receive a disproportionate amount of government support; according to the NYT, rural areas contain about 16% of the population but contain 21% of food stamp recipients. 

    Rural areas are just as needy as urban areas, and they receive comparable amounts of assistance in most areas and disproportionate levels of assistance from the government in a few. They might be less willing to acknowledge massive federal spending on their behalf as government spending though, but that doesn’t mean they don’t reap its rewards the same as everyone else. 

  • Zell Mill– oh, wait. he ended up becoming a Republican. :P

  • AnonymousSam

    Didn’t they close that meeting with an invocation of the memory of Stonewall Jackson, too?

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m not sure Michigan is really blue. I thought it was for a long time too, but I think it’s more that there’s a lot of libertarians there who’d rather the government just go away and are happy to vote Republican if the Republicans promise to make the government do that. The irony is lost upon them, which is why we now have another Right to Work state.

  • Veylon

    I think this needs to be said to be said every time the 3/5ths thing comes up. It was the Northerners who wanted blacks to not count. The Southerners wanted every black to count as a whole person.

    Well, for the purposes of distributing electoral votes, anyway. The idea of any of them actually getting to vote was absurd. Northerners argued that slave states shouldn’t get to use them for political weight if they weren’t enfranchised and Southerners wanted political weight. The 3/5ths was a compromise between the two.

  • If you’re getting that technical, the “3/5ths” ratio meant that only 3/5ths of the total black population would be counted, not that the founders literally valued 1 black person as being worth “3/5ths” of 1 white person. Not that there wasn’t enough racism to go around during those debates though…

  • MaryKaye

    There have been marked sociological differences between urban and rural people since before there was a US.  The pressure of social conformity is different in a city environment where there are more strangers.  Urban people also tend to be more mobile (no crops to abandon).  Until recently they died of diseases in droves (most large pre-modern cities needed immigration to balance their death rates) which must have affected family size and age distribution.  There are generally more educational opportunities, which has a lot of side effects.  I’m sure a sociologist could fill in a lot more.

    Why this leads to the liberal/conservative split in the modern US, that I couldn’t tell you.  It’s worth considering that conservatives might self-select for rural areas or liberals for urban ones (I know I did) as well as area affecting political views directly.

    One factor is that universities tend to be blue, and tend to be in cities:   you see tiny blue islands where they are in small towns.  (I am at a university in a big blue city, and it’s on beyond blue; the Socialist candidate for state legislature did very well here.)  Another is ethnic distribution:  in most parts of the US minorities are disproportionately in cities.  But I doubt either is the whole story.

  • P J Evans

    Fewer, not none. In rural areas, you may not have an actual sewage system. Most of the roads may be graded dirt, rather than paved. Law enforcement is – somewhere else, not close by; the firefighters are probably volunteers, and won’t be able to do more than watch the fire burn. Parks? Public transportation? Not hardly.

  • P J Evans

     I suspect that a lot of that spending is Social Security, disability, Medicare, Medicaid, maybe food stamps.

  • Keulan

    There’s probably some racism involved in attempts by Republicans to disenfranchise urban voters compared to rural voters, but that’s not all of it. I’d say many of these Republicans are aware of the fact that cities tend to be more liberal while rural areas tend to be more conservative. They’re trying to disenfranchies not just urban blacks, but all urban-dwelling liberals.

  • aunursa

    does it not also bother you that it’s blatantly racist?

    It’s not blatantly racist — it’s blatantly partisan.  Presumably the Republicans would seek the same plan regardless of the racial makeup of the various districts.  Their motive is not minimizing the votes of certain races per se, but minimizing the votes of Democrats.

  • Matthias

    Well Fred they haven’t abandoned their three-fifths plan. It is still in force and prevents the Democrats from gaining seats in the house leading to the current deadlock. All that happened was to not extend it to presidential elections as well.

  • SisterCoyote

     Not sure I agree with you there. It may be splitting hairs, but I think they’re trying to minimize minority and urban votes, because those populations tend to vote Democrat.

  • The race Or partisanship question is I think a false one.   Overt Son-of-Ham style racist mythologies have become taboo across the board, but theatrically dogmatic strains of political conservatism and Christian religion have replaced overt claims to Whiteness as justifications for why people who just so happen to be White are the natural ruling class of the United States.  

    Right-Wing media has  done its job in this realm as well.  Forty years of narrative about how liberal views are alien, illegitimate, and inspired by secret evil motives has certainly done it’s work in allowing the Virginia GOP to feel justified in doing this.  (along with a view that large urban centers are for criminal riff-raff who aren’t good enough to own land, an attitude that goes all the way back across the water to early modern England, where it had more to do with classism than US style racism. Not that there’s a strict either-or dichotomy there either. )

  • Julian Elson

    I feel compelled to point out that if the Virginia plan counts Obama voters at 3/5th the weight of Romney voters (because 51.16% of voters get 30.77% of electoral votes), the current winner-takes-all system of statewide EV allocation counts Romney voters (or whoever gets anything less than a plurality) as 0/5ths the weight of Obama voters (or whoever gets a plurality) by the same standard (because 48.84% of voters get 0% of electoral votes). I’m not going to claim there’s some motive here more noble than trying make the electoral college more Republican friendly, and I think that a winner-takes-all norm applied to all states, imperfect as it is, is better than state legislatures implementing local rules designed to tweak the electoral college to the preferences of local legislatures (I might make an exception for the movement among state legislatures to award their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, so long as all states following that rule combined make up a majority of the electoral college).

  • EllieMurasaki

    Your math…doesn’t math.