Thursday, March 21, 2019

Upcoming Supreme Court Cases Could Force Fair Voting Maps for Wisconsin in 2020

For Release: Thursday - March 21, 2019

Note: This piece appeared as a guest editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 19th.

If there is one thing Wisconsinites can agree on, it is that our right to vote is a fundamental American principle. When we vote, we are voicing our view about how we want to shape the future for our families and communities. But unfortunately, far too many Wisconsin voters live in noncompetitive districts where their voice is silenced by partisan gerrymandering and wealthy special interests. Before the redrawing of the new voting maps in 2021, we have a window to make important changes to this process both here in Wisconsin and nationally as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to hear two historic challenges to the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering.

For years, Common Cause in Wisconsin and its allies have been organizing citizens across the state in support of redistricting reform. Our organizing efforts are based on a very simple idea: voters should get to pick their politicians, not the other way around. Yet, here in Wisconsin, when the Republican-controlled legislature drew the current congressional and state legislative voting maps in 2011, they had only one thing in mind: keeping and expanding their power, regardless of the decision and will of Wisconsin voters at election time.

Wisconsin’s voting maps are among the most gerrymandered in the country. Nine of ten voters have no real choice at the polls, as the maps were drawn by partisan politicians to guarantee a certain election outcome. That is not how democracy is supposed to work. That’s why Wisconsin needs to adopt a nonpartisan redistricting process, where the lines are drawn fairly and districts reflect the communities they serve without partisan considerations. We do not have to look any further than to our neighbors in Iowa where this type of reform has worked to ensure impartial voting maps. All in all, 17 states impose greater checks and balances on redistricting and Wisconsin should become the 18th.

Wisconsinites also need a national standard and voters should not have to wait another three years to be able to have fair maps. That’s why two current cases at the U.S. Supreme Court are so important.

On March 26th, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Rucho v. Common Cause, which challenges Republican gerrymandering in North Carolina, and Lamone v. Benisek, which challenges Democratic gerrymandering in Maryland. By taking up both cases, the Court is showing that the fight for fair maps is not partisan and that both parties participate in this bad process.

Both cases are similar to a Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, which the U.S. Supreme Court sent back to a lower federal court last year on the issue of standing. However, the North Carolina and Maryland cases are unlikely to suffer from the same standing issues as the Wisconsin case since they focus on a district-specific analysis versus a statewide analysis.

This is an historic opportunity for the Supreme Court to stop discrimination based on political expression through partisan gerrymandering. The high court should strike down gerrymandering and declare the practice illegal and unconstitutional nationwide. A definitive decision will accelerate people-powered movements to put mapping in the hands of impartial citizens rather than self-serving politicians.

Politicians will not simply give up their power to gerrymander without a fight. As the Supreme Court hears these two important cases and other litigation continues, your elected officials in Madison need to hear from you. It is going to take all of us to unrig the unfair practice of partisan gerrymandering. We need tens of thousands of Wisconsinites to contact both their state senator and their state representative and urge them to support nonpartisan redistricting reform, specifically the Iowa model legislation.

Both the Wisconsin Legislature and the U.S. Supreme Court have a clear opportunity in front of them. They can make a definitive, revolutionary change we need to so that Wisconsinites, and all Americans, can hold elected officials accountable on Election Day and have genuine representation in their state legislatures and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Now is the time for the people, rather than the politicians, to decide who represents them.

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Jay Heck has been the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin since 1996. Tim Cullen is the Chair of the State Governing Board of Common Cause in Wisconsin and served as a State Senator from 1975 to 1987 (Majority Leader, 1981-1987) and again, from 2011 to 2015.


Jay Heck
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608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
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Madison, WI  53703

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