Twelve Wisconsin Democrats have filed suit in U.S. District Court in Madison against state election officials over the 2011 Wisconsin Assembly redistricting map. Republican leadership did the redistricting after the 2010 census. The plaintiffs claim that this redistricting is in violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments and has created “one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history.”
In a 30-page lawsuit, the group claims that there was intent to “systematically disadvantage” voters based on particular partisan viewpoints. In addition, they argue that their Democratic political beliefs have been burdened and underrepresented under the First Amendment right of free association.
The law firm Michael, Best & Friedrich, LLP was hired by Republican Leadership to represent the Wisconsin Senate and Wisconsin Assembly in connection with redistricting after the 2010 census. The plaintiffs claim the firm was hired to assist in “planning, drafting, negotiating, and gaining the favorable vote of commitments of a majority of Republican legislators.”
The case is brought against members the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), which runs elections but do not draw the maps. The Department of Justice will represent GAB in the case. The plaintiffs have requested that a panel of three judges decide the case, which could expedite the timeframe. It is even likely the Supreme Court could potentially decide the case before the 2016 election.
In previous United State Supreme Court cases, the court has found certain redistricting maps unconstitutional, but it has never provided a standard for distinguishing legal and unconstitutional maps. The group hopes that this suit could set a new standard for partisan redistricting, and plans to file litigation in other states, including in states where the maps benefit Democrats. The most recent interpretation offered by the U.S. Supreme Court came from League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, in which the court offered a partisan symmetry requirement that “the electoral system treat similarly-situated parties equally.”
The plaintiffs measure the level of an unfair gerrymander through an efficiency gap measured by “cracking and packing.” First, a party’s supporters are cracked among a large number of districts so they create a minority in each. Next, other supporters are packed into a small number of districts where huge majorities are created. The group asserts that cracking and packing produce “wasted” votes or excess votes not needed to elect a candidate. They claim packed votes are wasted in the overwhelming majority and cracked votes are wasted for a losing candidate. The efficiency gap is then calculated as the difference between wasted votes and the total number of votes cast. The plaintiffs calculate the efficiency gap for the Wisconsin Assembly in 2012 as 13% and 2014 as 10%.
As of this writing, no formal dates have been set by the court and GAB has yet to respond to the lawsuit.