Wisconsin voters file federal suit over 'one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern history'

Wisconsin voters want a federal court to throw out the state Assembly district map, alleging the line‐drawing process “secretive” and “partisan” and the maps unconstitutional for overly advantaging one party.

“My rights as a voter are being violated,” retired university professor Bill Whitford, one of the plaintiffs, stated. “If my vote counted as much as each one of my fellow citizens, I would be able to affect the shape of the Legislature. But I can’t, because they’ve decided through these maps that I simply don’t count.”

The lawsuit, Whitford v Nichols, argues the current map is one of the “worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history.”

“This kind of partisan gerrymandering is both unconstitutional and profoundly undemocratic,” the complaint states. “It is unconstitutional because it treats voters unequally, diluting their voting power based on their political beliefs, in violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and because it unreasonably burdens their First Amendment rights of association and free speech.”

The complaint further states, “Extreme partisan gerrymandering is also contrary to core democratic values. In the end, a political minority is able to rule the majority and to entrench itself in power by periodically manipulating election boundaries.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs held a news conference in Madison earlier this month to outline the case and case law — federal courts have harshly criticized the process the Republicans used to secretly draw maps following the 2010 census.

Wisconsin’s plan, assessed using a mathematical tool called the “efficiency gap,” wastes the votes of those who support Democrats in order to ensure Republicans win legislative elections, according to the plaintiffs and their attorneys.

“Wisconsin voters want fair elections, where every vote counts for something and every voice is heard,” said Peter Earle, the lead trial attorney for the plaintiffs. “When one party gains control of the levers of government and then stacks the deck in their favor to keep control, wresting control from the people, that’s contrary to Wisconsin’s tradition of fairness and the requirements of the Constitution for voters and parties to be treated equally.”

The Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting civil rights and ending discrimination, filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs. Michele Odorizzi of Mayer Brown and University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, who co‐created the efficiency gap metric, also are on the legal team.

“This lawsuit is designed to return elections in Wisconsin and across the country to fair contests,” said Earle. “Legislative elections in Wisconsin have become increasingly meaningless. We believe that we now have a standard that the courts can use, and that will gain the support of a majority of the Supreme Court, to overturn gerrymandered maps. We have an opportunity to make a major change in how politics works in the United States and help end the partisan gridlock that grips the nation.”

A new bipartisan campaign to support fair redistricting was launched the day the suit was filed.

The Wisconsin Fair Elections Project will highlight “the broken electoral system in Wisconsin” and involves Republicans Dale Schultz and Dan Theno and Democrat Tim Cullen.

“Democracy requires access for every citizen, and it requires truly competitive elections,” said Schultz. “When elections aren’t competitive, we see corruption and we see hubris.”

“These districts have clearly been drawn to protect not only incumbents, but a permanent majority that doesn’t need to worry about voters,” said Cullen. “Many of our fellow citizens — from all political persuasions, from all walks of life – simply have lost faith that their government is listening to them.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin issued a comment on the filing on July 8. Executive director Chris Ahmuty, in a news release, said, “When 53 percent of citizens vote for one party, but that party gets 39 percent of the legislative seats, something is askew. Past redistricting practices and tactics have resulted in unequal voting power among citizens, providing unfair representation for communities of color and fragmentation of communities of interest. No plan is insulated entirely from partisan bias, but elected officials and the courts have an obligation to ensure that the public good is not sacrificed to the self-interest of political parties. Such practices alienate voters and weaken democracy.”

 

Date: 
Friday, July 10, 2015