Dan Walters

Opinion: The rules of politics are in flux

It’s natural, one supposes, that politicians are preoccupied with election rules since they are huge factors in who wins and loses.

Currently, California’s political class is all atwitter over two pending U.S. Supreme Court cases.

One, with a decision due soon, is an Arizona case on the constitutionality of having an independent commission, rather than the Legislature, draw congressional districts.

If the court rules that only the Legislature can legally draw districts, it could mean a mid-decade shuffle of California’s 53 districts by majority Democrats.

They could reduce the 14 seats now held by Republicans, and/or shore up the districts of a half-dozen vulnerable Democratic congressional members.

The second case, out of Texas, challenges the assumption that all people, regardless of age, citizenship or voting status, are counted when populations of districts are equalized under the Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote decision 51 years ago.

The case, pursued by conservative activists, contends that only those eligible to vote should be counted.

If the case – which won’t be decided until next year – is successful, it apparently would not affect the number of congressional seats apportioned to each state. The U.S. Constitution clearly says that process is based on raw population.

However, such a ruling would affect how congressional and legislative districts are drawn, shifting seats from areas with relatively large immigrant and/or Latino populations but low numbers of voters – Los Angeles County, for instance, and some rural areas – to the suburbs.

Latino leaders see it as disenfranchisement – in Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s words, “nothing more than a cynical and transparent effort to turn back the clock on decades of legal precedent and return an unjust, unequal system of redistricting.”

The obsession with political rule-making is not confined to those two cases.

Democratic legislators have offered several proposals to increase voter registration, responding to the state’s declining rates of voting.

They portray their efforts as small “d” democracy but hope that having more registered voters will improve their party’s odds in close legislative and congressional duels.

Meanwhile, however, Democrats are pushing a pair of bills that would make it much more difficult to qualify ballot measures, one a 40-fold increase in the filing fee from $200 to $8,000, another to give the attorney general – virtually guaranteed to be a Democrat – more power to short-circuit ballot measures he or she deems faulty.

Both efforts capitalize on a misbegotten, abominable ballot measure submitted to Attorney General Kamala Harris that would legalize the murder of gays.

While the filing fee probably should be raised modestly, both would tilt the political playing field – the sort of disenfranchisement de León decries.