The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution in June calling for a nonpartisan process for mapping congressional and state legislative districts.
Milwaukee County is the 19th Wisconsin county to call on state lawmakers to act on redistricting reform.
“Wisconsin’s current redistricting process undermines our democracy and puts partisan interests ahead of the public interests,” stated Milwaukee County Supvr. Marcelia Nicholson, co-sponsor of the resolution and vice chair of the intergovernmental relations committee.
The resolution acknowledges the partisan influence that’s historically shaped congressional and legislative district maps in Wisconsin and says, “any redistricting plan created to achieve partisan gains by either political party is improper and unconstitutional.”
Supvr. David L. Sartori, who authored and sponsored the resolution, said in a prepared statement, “We only have to look at the results of the 2011 elections — where Republicans received less than 50 percent of the statewide vote but took control of 60 percent of the seats in the Assembly — to know that Wisconsin’s redistricting process is unfair.”
He added, “People see the results of our elections in Wisconsin and rightly believe that their votes are not equal.”
The resolution refers to six states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington — that created independent redistricting commissions to draw state and federal legislative district maps. Iowa also has a model system for nonpartisan redistricting.
The resolution also notes that a year ago, the county adopted an ordinance providing for the creation of an independent committee of retired judges to draft any new redistricting plan for supervisory districts.
Partisan gerrymandering heads to high court
Milwaukee county supervisors adopted their resolution just days after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear oral arguments in a Wisconsin case — Gill v. Whitford — that could curb partisan gerrymandering nationwide.
Twelve Wisconsin voters had challenged the 2011 Assembly district lines as an unconstitutionally partisan gerrymander — and prevailed in the lower courts.
“I’m grateful the Supreme Court will hear our case and listen to our stories of how we are harmed,” said Wendy Sue Johnson, one of the 12 plaintiffs in Whitford. “No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, we should all be able to agree on one thing: as voters in a democracy, we should have the right to freely choose our representatives rather than endure a system where politicians manipulate our district lines, dilute our votes and choose their own constituents.”
The 12 voters won at the district court level and again last November, with Seventh Circuit Judge Kenneth Francis Ripple writing the majority opinion for a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The decision said Wisconsin’s Assembly district map violated the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and found that the redistricting “was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters … by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats.”
The state then turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in the fall, probably in October.
“A federal three-judge panel rightfully held that Wisconsin lawmakers drew maps for the benefit of their own political party, with little regard for the will of the voters,” said Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center. Smith will argue the case before the high court.
Wisconsin’s 2011 partisan redistricting — created by legislative aides and hired consultants in a secret room in a private law office — employed the latest mapping tools to develop one of the most gerrymandered state legislative plans in the past four decades.
In the first election under the plan, Republicans won a supermajority of 60 out of 99 seats, despite earning fewer votes statewide.
In 2014 and 2016, Republicans extended their advantage to 63 and 64 seats, respectively, even though the statewide vote remained nearly tied.
The gerrymander was one of “the most aggressive of the decade, locking in a large and implausibly stable majority for Republicans in what is otherwise a battleground state,” said Thomas Wolf, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “It’s a symptom of politics going haywire and something that we increasingly see when one party has sole control of the redistricting process.”
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