For years, following every 10-year United States census, Wisconsin redrew their political boundaries like every other state. They usually allowed a panel of judges to do it to ensure that gerrymandering would not be in an issue- until 2011 when Republicans took control of the state government. Instead of turning the job over to nonpartisan judges, the Wisconsin GOP held secret meetings to redraw the state’s new political boundaries map in a way that heavily favored their party. Now, twelve citizens, supported by three former state senators, are suing the state in federal court to have the map thrown out before the 2016 elections.
In 2012, a panel of judges reviewed Wiconsin’s gerrymandered map after a litany of complaints. The judges made Republicans redrew the boundaries for two districts and reprimanded them for holding secret redistricting meetings. The two districts that had to be fixed were found to violate the voting rights of Hispanics on Milwaukee’s south side; but the twelve plaintiffs who are suing claim that the entire map should be thrown out because it has created a system where Democrats’ votes are being wasted.
The plaintiffs presented two pieces of evidence to the federal court to prove that the new map heavily favors Republicans. The first piece the is actual votes from the 2012 election. In 2012, Republicans overwhelmingly won the state Assembly elections even though more Democrats– 1.4 million versus 1.2 million–voted. Republicans walked away with 60 seats compared to Democrats’ 39 seats. It was a landslide that never would have happened if the map was not so heavily tilted in the GOP’s favor.
Attorney Peter Earle, the man representing the plaintiffs, says they are also presenting a set of numbers called an efficiency gap. This is a calculation created by Chicago Law Professor Nicholas Stephanopolous, which measures how many votes are wasted because of gerrymandering.
Stephanopolous says the average gap in the United States over the last forty years has been zero; this means that neither party has gained an advantage due to partisan maps. However, Wisconsin’s new map has a gap of thirteen percent. “The 2012 figure is the 28th worst score in modern American history, out of nearly 800 total plans,” Stephanopolous says.
Bill Whitford, the plaintiff named in the suit, Whitford v. Nichols (Nichols is a member of the board that made the map) said he just wants to make sure his votes are not wasted. Whitford said that Republicans redrew the lines so they would know the outcome of every Assembly race, even before people voted.
In addition to the twelve plaintiffs, three former senators are standing behind the citizens, Democrat Tim Cullen and Republicans Dale Schultz and Dan Theno. Former Senator Schultz said that he was on the board which that redrew the lines and saw what Republicans were doing; he says that he regrets not saying something at the time. He said that by the time he and Senator Cullen introduced a bill to take the redistricting power out of partisan lawmakers’ hands, their bill didn’t even get a hearing.
“Special interest money is so powerful now in our Legislature that I’m sad to report from first-hand experience, the majority of our legislators have been relegated to nothing more than pawns awaiting bills written by special interests…this leaves us, the citizens of Wisconsin with no alternative than to turn to the court,” Schultz says.
This isn’t surprising given the fact that Wisconsin’s governor and Republican presidential candidate is the Koch brother’s lap dog. The leader of their state puts special interests in front of citizens every single day, so why would the members of his party be any different?
“When a minority party stays in power, even though they garner fewer votes, then the health of our democracy depends on our courts to fix the problem. We have one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern political history,” Attorney Peter Earle says.
In the last month we have seen the Supreme Court slap down the GOP’s attempts to gerrymander in Arizona and the Florida Supreme Court forced Republicans in their state to throw out their map after they did the same thing Wisconsin did. Gerrymandering is a common Republican practice, because the only way they can win elections is by rigging the system. They know that in a fair election, without voter suppression and partisan districts, Democrats would win every time. They know this because some of the reddest states in the union, like Florida and Wisconsin, elected President Obama twice; but in each midterm election Republicans managed to take control of the state governments. That is because the right-wing is doing everything they possibly can to undermine free and fair elections, using every trick in the book to tilt the odds in their favor.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.