The Fight Against Gerrymandering
Advocates hope their Supreme Court case -- now being rewritten -- will succeed.
The problem is obvious: Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in America. A national analysis of all states finds that Republicans will win 12.1 percent more Assembly seats if each party wins 50 percent of the vote statewide, which makes it one of the worst examples of gerrymandering.
Is there a solution? One remedy is the Iowa plan, adopted nearly unanimously in 1980 when Republicans held control in both houses of the legislature. Both parties feared the other might gain the upper hand in future redistricting efforts, so they supported a plan whereby the non-partisan staff of the Legislative Services Agency (similar to this state’s non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau) would draw up the districts. And that has worked very well for Iowa voters, assuring neither party gets an unfair advantage.
As the good government group, Wisconsin Common Cause, puts it: “We should pick our politicians; politicians shouldn’t pick their voters.” Using that slogan, the group has been pushing state candidates for office to support Iowa’s approach.
That has had great appeal… for some. Common Cause has announced that 80 candidates for the legislature and two statewide candidates have signed on to support its plea for Wisconsin to adopt the Iowa plan. But just two of the 82 supporters are Republicans, Rep. Jon Plumer of Lodi (42nd district) and Todd Novak of Dodgeville (51st district).
And why should Republicans want this? Gerrymandering has helped give them a massive advantage in the Assembly, so even if Democrats take over the Senate and the governor’s office in the coming election, both distinct possibilities, the Assembly would hold veto power. Thus, the GOP could checkmate any attempt to pass the Iowa plan, or for that matter a Democratic gerrymander to screw Republicans.
And should the Republicans get lucky and retain Senate control along with reelecting Gov. Scott Walker, they could gerrymander the state for another 10 years. So drop dead, Common Cause.
It should be noted that Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature in 2008, under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and declined to support a bill pushed by then-Rep. Spencer Black calling for non-partisan redistricting. The reality is that both parties have at times tried to grab an unfair advantage through redistricting. The difference is the advent of computerized data has allowed gerrymandering to maximize a party’s advantage.
Thus, in Vermont, the Democrats get 10.6 percent more seats in the General Assembly with a tie vote between the two parties, that national analysis of gerrymandering found.
The more permanent remedy to the problem is a U.S. Supreme Court decision to end gerrymandering and assure that all voters have equal power. The advent of computerized data has also made it easy to measure the exact percentage advantage a party has given itself, allowing the courts a way to declare what runs afoul of the constitution and the Supreme Court’s 1962 Baker vs. Carr decision (“one person one vote”) declaring the need for equality in voting.
But the team of lawyers working with Democrats to overturn Wisconsin’s gerrymandering are not deterred and are working on re-filing the case. One of those is Ruth Greenwood of the Campaign Legal Center in Chicago. Greenwood is “the Australian lawyer trying to fix the US electoral system,” as a fun story in the Sydney Morning Herald declared.
Greenwood notes the decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts was 7-2 in favor of allowing her group of plaintiffs to refile the case if they could prove their clients had standing — meaning they had been personally harmed by the gerrymander. “The judgement was written by Roberts and he gave very specific instructions on how to prove standing” or “concrete and particularized harm to the plaintiffs,” she notes.
And her group has followed this to the letter, she says, identifying 40 plaintiffs in 27 Wisconsin Assembly districts that were obviously gerrymandered. And if those districts fall afoul of the law, the entire state would likely need to be redistricted.
The two dissenting Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and Trump-appointee Neil Gorsuch, voted against allowing a redo of the case, and are likely no votes on any gerrymandering challenge. Given Kavanaugh’s not-so-veiled warning that Democratic activists opposing his nomination may someday get their comeuppance, he might be hard to turn into a yes vote.
The court will likely rule first on the gerrymandering in North Carolina, where Republican politicians outright admitted their goal was to give their party an advantage. It’s a purple state with more registered Democrats than registered Republicans, but so gerrymandered that the GOP won 10 of 13 congressional seats. With a 50-50 vote, the national analysis shows, Republicans would win 26.8 percent more seats. The gerrymander, moreover, gives most of this advantage to white voters, and dilutes the voting power of predominantly Democratic African American voters.
Greenwood and company brought a challenge to this gerrymander all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent it back to the federal appeals court, which ruled the state map was unconstitutional and must be redrawn. That decision has been appealed and will eventually be ruled on by the higher court.
If they uphold the decision, Greenwood predicts, that will help her team when they bring back the Wisconsin case. “At the very least the 27 districts would have to be struck down,” she predicts.
But the courts have become increasingly partisan and GOP-appointed Supreme Court justices might like the fact that the majority of gerrymandered states hurt Democrats. Greenwood, however, is very hopeful the court will do the right thing. We’ll see.
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More about the Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts
- 45 Counties Want to Ban Gerrymandering - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Apr 19th, 2019
- Data Wonk: Walker Seeks to Gerrymander America - Bruce Thompson - Apr 3rd, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: The Arrogance of Robin Vos - Bruce Murphy - Mar 21st, 2019
- Data Wonk: The Gerrymander Wars March On - Bruce Thompson - Mar 20th, 2019
- The State of Politics: How Evers Would End Gerrymandering - Steven Walters - Mar 18th, 2019
- Evers’ Budget Will Include Nonpartisan Redistricting Process - Shawn Johnson - Feb 27th, 2019
- Representative Subeck Applauds Governor Evers’ Plan to Ensure Fair Election Maps - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Feb 26th, 2019
- Rep. Hesselbein Supports Governor Evers’ Fair Maps Plan - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Feb 26th, 2019
- Rep. Spreitzer Supports Gov. Evers’s Redistricting Reform - State Rep. Mark Spreitzer - Feb 26th, 2019
- Statement on Governor Evers’ announcement he will include nonpartisan redistricting reform in his proposed budget - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Feb 26th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Embraces Gov. Evers’ Inclusion of Redistricting in Budget - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Feb 26th, 2019
- Op Ed: Why We Oppose Gerrymandering - Andrea Kaminski - Feb 20th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Jan 29th, 2019
- Op Ed: Gerrymandering Costs Taxpayers Millions - James Rowen - Jan 23rd, 2019
- Data Wonk: Gerrymander is Alive and Well - Bruce Thompson - Dec 12th, 2018
- Board Adopts Supervisor Moore Omokunde Proposal to Decriminalize Marijuana - Sup. Supreme Moore Omokunde - Nov 6th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: The Fight Against Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Oct 30th, 2018
- Democrats Refile Redistricting Suit - Shawn Johnson - Sep 16th, 2018
- Amended Whitford Complaint Highlights Harm Caused by Wisconsin’s Partisan Gerrymander to 40 Plaintiffs Across 34 Districts - Campaign Legal Center - Sep 14th, 2018
- The State of Wasted Votes - Malia Jones - Jul 2nd, 2018
- Data Wonk: Can Democrats Still Contest Gerrymander? - Bruce Thompson - Jun 27th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Democrats Rejected Redistricting Reform - Steven Walters - Jun 25th, 2018
- Supreme Court Punts on Gerrymandering - Shawn Johnson - Jun 18th, 2018
- Republican State Leadership Committee: The Efficiency Gap is “Sociological Gobbledygook” - Republican State Leadership Committee - Jun 18th, 2018
- Response to Gill v Whitford decision to remand back to trial court - Fair Elections Project - Jun 18th, 2018
- The Art Of Gerrymandering Milwaukee - Malia Jones - Jun 9th, 2018
- The Push for Nonpartisan Redistricting - Cathleen Draper - Jun 5th, 2018
- U.S. Supreme Court Nears Decision on Wisconsin Redistricting Case - Cathleen Draper - Jun 2nd, 2018
- Data Wonk: Many Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Mar 14th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Will U.S. Supremes Rule on State Districts? - Steven Walters - Feb 19th, 2018
- Back in the News: Majority Now Backs Fair Redistricting - Bruce Murphy - Feb 5th, 2018
- Data Wonk: John Roberts’ Nightmare - Bruce Thompson - Oct 11th, 2017
- The State of Politics: You Be The Judge on Redistricting - Steven Walters - Oct 2nd, 2017
- Op Ed: U.S. Supreme Court Should End Partisan Gerrymandering - Andrea Kaminski - Sep 26th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Judges Consider a Democratic Gerrymander - Bruce Thompson - Aug 30th, 2017
- Op Ed: 24 Counties Have Voted for Fair Maps - Matt Rothschild - Aug 25th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Right Wing Seeks to End Democracy? - Bruce Thompson - Aug 23rd, 2017
- Data Wonk: US Supreme Court Wrong on Redistricting? - Bruce Thompson - May 31st, 2017
- Op Ed: Save Taxes With Nonpartisan Redistricting - Andrea Kaminski and Lindsay Dorff - May 26th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Why GOP Backs Gerrymander - Bruce Thompson - May 24th, 2017
- Data Wonk: State’s Political Map At Issue - Bruce Thompson - May 18th, 2017
- Rep. Peter Barca Statement on Attorney General Appeal of Redistricting Decision - State Rep. Peter Barca - Feb 24th, 2017
- Fair Elections Project calls upon Legislature to focus on fair map drawing process - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Feb 24th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: GOP’s Redistricting Lawyers Are Big Donors - Matt Rothschild - Feb 6th, 2017
- Op Ed: Reject Partisanship, Redraw Voting Maps - Andrea Kaminski - Feb 3rd, 2017
- Rep. Peter Barca Statement on Assembly Organization Committee Secret Ballot - State Rep. Peter Barca - Feb 2nd, 2017
- Court Watch: Court’s Redistricting Order A Problem? - Bruce Thompson - Feb 1st, 2017
- Rep. Hesselbein Calls for Open, Transparent, and Public Process for Drawing New Legislative Lines - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Jan 27th, 2017
- Wisconsin Federal Court Permanently Blocks State Redistricting Plan - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Jan 27th, 2017
- Data Wonk: 2016 Election Results Prove Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Dec 28th, 2016
- Plaintiffs call for new maps for Wisconsin legislative district - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Dec 21st, 2016
- Data Wonk: Measuring Wisconsin’s Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Dec 7th, 2016
- Sen. Taylor statement on federal court ruling against Republican gerrymandering - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Nov 21st, 2016
- Statement on Redistricting Ruling - State Sen. Chris Larson - Nov 21st, 2016
- Federal Court overturns unconstitutional gerrymandering of Wisconsin legislative districts - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Nov 21st, 2016
- Rep. Barca Statement on Redistricting Decision - State Rep. Peter Barca - Nov 21st, 2016
- HISTORIC DECISION: Wisconsin Federal Court Strikes Down Partisan Gerrymander and Adopts Groundbreaking Legal Standard - Campaign Legal Center - Nov 21st, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: The Myth of Democratic Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Jan 26th, 2016
- Data Wonk: Can New Approach End Gerrymandering? - Bruce Thompson - Jan 6th, 2016
- Federal Lawsuit to Overturn Unconstitutional Gerrymandering of Wisconsin Legislative Districts Continues - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Dec 17th, 2015
- Can Auto Redistricting End Gerrymandering? - Laura Thompson - Dec 10th, 2015
- Assembly candidate Brostoff calls for non-partisan redistricting - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Apr 17th, 2014
- Redistricting reform the antidote to Republican extremism - Press Release - Nov 13th, 2013
- Lazich, August, Fitzgerald and Vos Still Silent on Redistricting Reform Public Hearings As Support & Pressure Builds - Common Cause in Wisconsin - Sep 17th, 2013
- Freshmen legislators push new legislation to correct flawed partisan redistricting process - Press Release - Apr 11th, 2013