Wisconsin, voter
A Wisconsin voter. Photo credit: vainglory / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A new lawsuit argues that Wisconsin’s current legislative maps, which Republicans drew after taking over the state Assembly in 2010, constitute an extreme gerrymander. 

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Wasting no time, a coalition of voting rights activists challenged Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative maps one day after Janet Protasiewicz took her seat on the state’s Supreme Court and thereby flipped its majority from the GOP to Democrats. 

“Gerrymandering is a stain on our democracy no matter which party does it. It’s common sense: Voters should pick their politicians, not the other way around,” said Mark Gaber, the senior director of redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “For far too long, Wisconsinites have had their voices illegally silenced by extreme gerrymandering. When districts are drawn fairly, all Wisconsin voters will have an equal chance to elect leaders who will best serve their communities.”

The lawsuit points out that the current maps, which Republicans drew after taking over the state legislature in 2010, constitute an extreme gerrymander. 

As a result, the GOP has had a stranglehold on the state Assembly even though the popular vote was usually very close. 

The activists, which include CLC and the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, noted that Democrats won as much as 53 percent of the vote in elections since then but have never held more than 39 out of 99 seats in the Assembly.

In last year’s election, thanks to the gerrymandered maps, Republicans nearly won a supermajority in the state legislature. They were victorious in 22 out of 33 Senate seats but fell just short of a two-thirds majority in the Assembly. 

However, in the same year, Democratic candidates won three of five statewide elections. 

“By every metric, Wisconsin’s legislative plans score among the most — if not the most — skewed in the nation,” the lawsuit states. 

Prior to Protasiewicz’s victory earlier this year, the GOP also held a 4-3 majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which would have made challenging the gerrymandered districts futile. 

Now, however, with the majority swinging in the Democrats’ favor, there is an opening that the voting rights groups intend to seize. 

They are challenging the existing maps on the grounds that they treat voters differently based on their political views, retaliate against some voters because of those viewpoints, and violate the state constitution’s promise of a free government. 

“The extreme partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin hurts its voters and is unconstitutional,” said Ruth Greenwood, the director of the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School. “No voter should be favored or disfavored based on their political viewpoints. We look forward to litigating this case in favor of fairer maps and equal representation for all Wisconsinites.”

The chances of success seem quite high now that Democrats hold a majority. When she campaigned for the open Supreme Court seat, Protasiewicz called the state’s maps “rigged.” 


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