(CN) – Michigan’s League of Women Voters filed a federal lawsuit claiming the state’s election maps are designed to disadvantage Democrats and diminish the impact of their votes.
The women’s group and 11 Democratic voters sued Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson for declaratory and injunctive relief Friday in Detroit federal court. They are represented by Joseph H. Yeager Jr. of the Indianapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels.
“Michigan’s durable and severe partisan gerrymander of state legislative and congressional districts violates individual plaintiffs’ First Amendment free speech and association rights and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights,” the complaint states.
The voters claim Michigan’s election map system “intentionally places them in voting districts that reduce or eliminate the power of their votes.”
They claim the 2011 redistricting process was “a particularly egregious” example of partisan gerrymandering, with the plans being “developed in a private, secret process by Republican consultants, legislative staff and legislators to the exclusion of Democrats and the public.”
According to the plaintiffs, gerrymandering legislators “draw district lines that ‘pack’ as many opposing party voters as possible into a few supermajority districts, while ‘cracking’ the rest of those voters into a large number of districts where the gerrymandering party can command a safe but more modest majority of the vote.”
Some of the individual plaintiffs claim they were “cracked” or “packed” in this way. The gerrymandering process allows for control of the number of “wasted votes,” according to the complaint, which are votes that go to a losing candidate or to a winner who was more votes than he or she needs.
The district lines are redrawn every 10 years based on census data, and Republicans controlled the Michigan Legislature and governor’s office in 2011.
“The Republican majority pushed [the redistricting bills] through the Legislature in 13 calendar days from the date it publicly revealed the maps to the final votes, including two weekends and a state constitutionally mandated five-day waiting period,” the lawsuit states.
According to the League of Women Voters and its Democratic co-plaintiffs, the voting maps “created oddly shaped districts contrary to neutral redistricting principals.”
They even compared one district to the salamander-shaped voting district that was approved 200 years earlier by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, namesake of the phrase “gerrymander.”
The voters cited data from 2002 to 2016 showing the alleged disproportion between the number of Democratic votes cast and the number of seats held by Democrats. Republicans also controlled the Legislature and governorship when the maps were redrawn in 2001, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs’ complaint references exhibits that show alternate Michigan House and Senate maps they say were “drawn without any intent to favor members of one party over the other.”
They seek a declaration that the current Michigan voting maps are unconstitutional, as well as an injunction preventing Secretary of State Johnson and her employees from “administering, preparing for, and in any way permitting the nomination or election of members of Michigan’s Legislature and Michigan members of Congress from the unconstitutional current apportionment plan that now exists.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Yeager, said in an emailed statement that the lawsuit has been years in the making.
“The League and the individual voter plaintiffs know, just as everyone knows, that the Michigan Legislature badly stacked the electoral deck with the map it drew in 2011. We look forward to proving in court that by any standard, the result unconstitutionally deprives millions of Michigan voters of equal representation,” he said.
Sue Smith, director of the Michigan League of Women Voters’ Redistricting Program, said in a statement Friday that “ending partisan gerrymandering is critical to preserve our democracy and ensure every vote counts.”
“Michigan’s State House, Senate and Congressional districts are among the worst in the nation when it comes to partisan gerrymandering, and today’s lawsuit aims to fix the problem and restore voters’ rights to choose who best represents them,” Smith said.
The Michigan attorney general’s office did not respond Tuesday to an email request for comment.