A Wisconsin state court case has climbed its way to the top of the judicial totem pole, facing the United States Supreme Court for a verdict on a questionable drawing of Wisconsin voting district lines.
A panel of three federal judges in Wisconsin voted 2-1 in favor of a new district map to be drawn by Nov. 2018.
Due to the federal court’s ruling, the state of Wisconsin filed to appeal the case to Supreme Court of the United States.
“Obviously the districts currently drawn benefited the Republican party, not only for congressional representatives, but statewide elections as well,” said Matt Lueck, field director for the 2016 Tom Nelson congressional campaign.
“Gerrymandering” is a phrase used by political scientists to explain this type of comprehensive map drawing in favor of one party over another.
“Wisconsin State legislators are given the job of redrawing district lines during every census year,” said John Blakeman, professor of political science. “In the United States, we have to conduct a 10 year census and typically every 10 years legislators look at the updated population and draw accordingly.”
Many courts across the country have weighed in on unconstitutional districts and many have even made it to the supreme level, but Wisconsin is the first of its kind.
“The Supreme Court has never addressed a case on partisan gerrymandering. There have been cases based on racial gerrymandering, but never partisan,” Blakeman said. “This is a very new case the court is looking at.”
Tackling this issue is important for free and fair elections. “Safe” districts for both Republicans and Democrats hurt the integrity of the state’s elections.
“Every vote matters,” said Katrina Shankland, state representative of Wisconsin’s 71st district. “Our democracy is not as strong when legislators make safe districts. It dilutes everyone’s voice.”
After the 2010 census, the Republican-controlled legislature drew lines to create safe districts for Republicans. The districts are so safe that a competitive election is nearly impossible.
“The public wants 50/50 districts. When there is a 70/30 district, who is listening to the 30 percent? Gerrymandering rigs the map and it doesn’t benefit anyone if their representative does not have to listen to the constituency,” Shankland said.
Many other states face the same political issue and are working with their government toward viable solutions.
“The models that cut down on political conflict are nonpartisan redistricting commissions. California and Iowa are the models to follow right now. A nonpartisan commission that operates beyond the fray of political conflict is the best approach to diminish partisan district drawing,” Blakeman said.
Looking at the current districts in Wisconsin, Stevens Point is a perfect example of partisan gerrymandering. The university remains a notorious liberal hotspot and is placed in the same district as La Crosse, another liberal area, which is 115 miles away.
The Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the ultimate ruling for this case, but Shankland had a few optimistic words.
“The chance to win at the Supreme Court level is better than it has been in the past, the plaintiffs now have a formula called the ‘efficiency gap’ which measures the amount of wasted votes in any given district,” Shankland said.
For now, the integrity of elections in Wisconsin is solely respected by the support of federal judges.