A challenge to how Republican lawmakers drew legislative districts in 2011 is heading to trial in May. A panel of three federal judges unanimously ruled Thursday they should decide whether the maps were drawn correctly after holding a trial, rather than based on legal briefs that have already been filed. The ruling is a victory for the 12 Democrats who brought the case on the theory Republicans had violated their voting rights by drawing legislative districts that are so favorable to the GOP. Those bringing the case hope to set a standard that could be used around the country to determine when politicians — whether Republicans or Democrats — go too far in drawing maps to help them. Republicans won control of Wisconsin in 2010 and the next year drew new maps that greatly favored them. Lawmakers have to draw new maps every 10 years to account for changes in population, and the party in power has the ability to set lines that help them.
An earlier challenge resulted in changes to two Assembly districts on Milwaukee’s south side but otherwise kept in place the maps that favor Republicans. If Democrats win this case, new maps would have to be established that don’t heavily favor one party.
Democrats brought their lawsuit in July, arguing the intention of GOP lawmakers was clear because they hired a law firm to draw the maps in secret using data from past elections to maximize their advantage. Before the maps were publicly approved, legislative leaders made rank-and-file Republicans sign secrecy agreements before they could review changes to their districts.
The Democrats bringing the lawsuit argue the Republicans drew maps that result in Democrats casting high numbers of “wasted votes” — that is, votes that are not needed to elect a candidate. Using information about wasted votes, they have proposed a test courts can use to determine when lawmakers go too far in drawing maps that help their party.
Full Article: Challenge to GOP-drawn legislative maps headed to trial.