Wisconsin Voting Advocates Try to Toss Map They Say Is Gerrymandered

August 2, 2023 by Tom Ramstack
Wisconsin Voting Advocates Try to Toss Map They Say Is Gerrymandered
FILE - A man walks by the Wisconsin state Capitol, Oct. 10, 2012, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)

MADISON, Wisc. — Voting rights advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday that asks the Wisconsin Supreme Court to throw out a state districting map they say reflects gerrymandering by Republicans.

The lawsuit was filed one day after a justice was sworn into the Supreme Court who tipped the balance to give liberals a majority.

“By every metric, Wisconsin’s legislative plans score among the most- if not the most- skewed in the nation,” says the lawsuit filed with the state Supreme Court.

Since 2011, when a more conservative state districting map that favors Republicans took effect, the Republican presence in the state Legislature has grown to a 64-35 majority in the assembly and a 22-11 majority in the Senate.

Before the latest map, Democrats won as much as 53% of the statewide elections.

The lawsuit, titled Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, alleges three violations of the state constitution.

It says the latest map has the effect of retaliating against liberal voters in violation of their free speech rights. It claims a violation of equal protection under the law by saying it favors voters with Republican political viewpoints. It also says the favoritism deprives voters of a government that is supposed to guarantee their unimpeded freedom to choose political leaders.

A fourth claim says it violates a state law requiring that voting districts must be contiguous.

The lawsuit was filed by the advocacy groups Campaign Legal Center, Law Forward and the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School. They are represented by the law firms Stafford Rosenbaum and Arnold & Porter.

“In the past 12 years, one political party captured the Legislature and has insulated itself from being answerable to the voters,” said Jeff Mandell, an attorney for Stafford Rosenbaum. “Despite the fact that our legislative branch is meant to be the most directly representative of the people, the gerrymandered maps have divided our communities, preventing fair representation.”

The lawsuit won immediate support from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, who said in a statement, “For years, members of the Wisconsin state Legislature have consistently ignored the will of the people, and they’ve been able to do so comfortably and without facing any real accountability because they have gerrymandered themselves into safe, partisan districts. It’s time for that to change.”

The newest member of the state Supreme Court, Justice Janet Protasiewicz, gave a hint of a likely outcome for the lawsuit after she previously called the latest voting district map “rigged.” 

Nevertheless, it won approval by a 4-3 vote of the conservative majority in the 2021 case.

Protasiewicz’s appointment to a 10-year term gives liberals a 4-3 majority. She has said she would be willing to revisit legal disputes over the map.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin denies gerrymandering in the current map. It fired back with a statement that blames Protasiewicz and her supporters for any unfairness that might come from a successful legal challenge.

“Wisconsinites be warned,” the Republican Party of Wisconsin said in a statement on Tuesday. “An era of hyper-partisanship is fast approaching as a number of issues such as redistricting … protecting the unborn and commonsense election laws are likely to come before the court.” 


The lawsuit filed Wednesday says, “This case is about ending the systematic silencing of voters across the state as punishment for daring to think, believe and vote differently from a group of politicians who won a single election 13 years ago and then set out to entrench themselves into power permanently, the state’s constitution — and the rights of its residents — be damned.”

State legislatures rewrite districting maps every 10 years after the U.S. Census reports to reflect changes in demographics. They are supposed to be neutral on political orientation to avoid any unfair advantages for a single party.

In the past two years, partisanship in voting districts or procedures has become a hot topic after former President Donald Trump said the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him by voter fraud.

The Wisconsin lawsuit is one of several pending nationwide that seeks to redraw districting maps before the 2024 general election.

In Alabama, state lawmakers approved a new congressional district map last month that is supposed to comply with a Supreme Court ruling in June. The court said the previous map diluted the voting power of Black voters.

The ruling was based on alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act. It is expected to influence ongoing redistricting in Louisiana and Georgia.

Another voting rights case on South Carolina congressional districts is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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