WI GOP Called Out for Gerrymandering

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Wisconsin Republicans can thank “one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in American history” for their continued control of the state Legislature, according to a federal lawsuit.
     Twelve Democratic voters filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against members of the Government Accountability Board – the state’s election authority – alleging Republicans met in secret to create a redistricting plan giving them an unfair advantage, which they then rushed through the Legislature.
     “This kind of partisan gerrymandering is both unconstitutional and profoundly undemocratic,” the complaint states.
     In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, where the court ruled 5-4 that an authority outside a state legislature can create and change voting districts, the plaintiffs want a declaration that the current Wisconsin plan is unconstitutional and an injunction against its use in the 2016 election.
     In its stead, they propose another plan that results in fewer so-called “wasted votes” – votes cast beyond what’s needed for a party to win as well as those cast for the losing candidate.
     The plaintiffs claim the current plan was designed with the principles of “cracking” and “packing” to result in a strategic allocation of wasted votes.
     “Cracking” in this case refers to distributing Democratic voters among many districts so that they never quite achieve a majority, allowing Republicans to take the seats regardless of the Democrat votes.
     “Packing” consolidates Republicans into voting districts in order to assure a landslide victory, according to the complaint.
     By dividing the number of wasted votes by total votes, the plaintiffs come up with an “efficiency gap” that they claim can indicate unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
     “[B]y aggregating all of a plan’s cracking and packing into a single number, the efficiency gap measures a party’s undeserved seat share: the proportion of seats a party receives that it would not have received under a balanced plan in which both sides had approximately equal wasted votes,” the complaint states.
     In Wisconsin, the efficiency gap is 11 to 12 percent in favor of Republicans, one of the highest in American history.
     This was the predicted result of the plan, created by lawyers and legislative aides and subject to full review only by high-ranking Republican legislators. Democrats were not permitted to review the plan until it was “rushed” through the Legislature in a matter of days, and rank-and-file Republicans signed secrecy pledges before reviewing only how the plan would affect their individual districts, the complaint states.
     Not only is the plan unconstitutional, but its efficiency gap is unnecessary, the plaintiffs claim. They propose a plan with just a 2 percent efficiency gap, a number they say is possible by avoiding cracking and packing, that meets or exceeds the current plan’s metrics as to federal voting law.
     “The demonstration plan proves that the current plan’s extreme pro-Republican tilt cannot be blamed on either an effort to comply with legitimate redistricting criteria or Wisconsin’s underlying political geography,” the complaint states. “Both of those factors were perfectly compatible with a neutral map.”
     Indeed, in a prior lawsuit, a judge called claims the current plan was not influenced by partisan politics “almost laughable,” according to the complaint.
     The lawsuit’s demands include adoption of a new, constitutional plan that meets federal requirements.
     The plaintiffs also asked for a three-judge panel per federal requirement on lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state voting districts. It has been assigned thus far to U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb.
     The Government Accountability Board referred inquiries to the state Attorney General’s office. Anne E. Schwartz, director of communications and public affairs, said in an email that the department had not yet received the complaint.
     Among the five attorneys representing the plaintiffs are Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and Paul Strauss and Ruth Greenwood of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
     Peter Earle, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is the local lawyer whose signature appears on the complaint.
     A group called Wisconsin Fair Elections Project on Tuesday established a website that includes a press release, legal documents and a signable petition to end “extreme partisan gerrymandering.”