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Wisconsin Voting Districts May Change Before the Presidential Election

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016   

MADISON, Wis. - A suit brought by 12 Wisconsin Democrats saying the state's legislative district map drawn by Republicans in 2011 is unfair is going to trial this month. A three-judge federal panel unanimously ruled the case should proceed.

New maps are drawn every 10 years following the census, and Democrats contend the maps were drawn to give Republicans, who were in power at the time, an unfair advantage.

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said the maps are rigged and make no sense.

"Some cities in Wisconsin, some small cities, relatively small -- Sheboygan, Beloit, others -- have as many as two or even three state assembly districts," he said. "They've been carved up, and that just doesn't make any sense, according to a lot of experts."

Republicans have said the maps are fair, contending that Democrats tend to live in more urban areas of the state and thus are packed into smaller districts. They are confident the judges will uphold the maps.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said maps can be so partisan that they violate voters' rights, but the justices haven't been able to agree on a standard for deciding whether maps are gerrymandered or not.

The Democrats who brought the suit have proposed a test the courts can use to determine if the maps are unfair, but Republicans say the suggested standard is not a good way to determine that. Heck said that's just one of the critical decisions the three-judge panel will make.

"It may decide that there has to be a different criteria for drawing district lines that don't include hyperpartisanship, secrecy, the lack of transparency and all the other things that made the 2011 redistricting process so contentious," he said.

If the panel throws out the existing political map, Heck said, it could order that a different and supposedly more fair map be drawn and implemented before the presidential election in November. Heck said the basic concept of one person, one vote, is at stake.

"It's really your choice. It's really all about what kind of a choice you're actually even going to have to consider when you go into the ballot box," he said. "Competitive elections are more interesting, they stimulate higher turnout, and they make legislators more responsive if they know they could get beat."

The present map is online at maps.legis.wisconsin.gov.


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