Wendy Sue Johnson can look out her bedroom window in the 91st Assembly District and see across her side yard into the 68th District. Her house was in the 68th until Wisconsin lawmakers redrew state legislative borders in 2011. Republicans, who had just won control of the Legislature, rearranged districts that year to maximize the number of seats their party would win. It worked. In 2012, Republican candidates collected 48.6 percent of all votes cast in Assembly elections, but they won 60 of 99 Assembly seats. Johnson is among 12 Democratic plaintiffs who challenged the constitutionality of the new map. A federal court agreed with them in November. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Wisconsin case in October, setting the stage for historic changes to a bedrock political process and the balance of power in state capitals.
Articles about voting issues in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s legislature is preparing to vote on a pair of bills that would enact stricter standards for election recounts. The impetus for this legislation was Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s successful recount petition after her distant finish in last year’s presidential election. “The situation that we had last fall, with somebody who finished way back in the pack requesting a recount was, I believe, the first time anything like that has ever happened,” Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney told WhoWhatWhy. Under Assembly Bill 153 and Senate Bill 102, candidates cannot request recounts unless they finish within one percent of the winner. The proposal would also reduce the time available for candidates to petition for recounts.
Wisconsin: The research that convinced SCOTUS to take the Wisconsin gerrymandering case, explained | Nicholas Stephanopoulos/Vox
In June, the Supreme Court agreed to hear its first partisan gerrymandering case in more than a decade. This case, Gill v. Whitford, involves a challenge to the district plan that Wisconsin passed for its state house after the 2010 Census. The case also involves a quantitative measure of gerrymandering — the efficiency gap — that has created a bit of a buzz. One reporter compares it to a “silver-bullet democracy theorem” and a “gerrymandering miracle drug.” Another speculates that it may be the “holy grail of election law jurisprudence.” I’m an attorney in Whitford and the co-author of an article advocating the efficiency gap, so I appreciate the attention the metric is getting. But I still think much of this interest is misplaced. The efficiency gap is, in fact, a simple and intuitive measure of gerrymandering, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But the true breakthrough in Whitford isn’t that plaintiffs have finally managed to quantify gerrymandering. Rather, it’s that they’ve used the efficiency gap (and other metrics) to analyze the Wisconsin plan in new and powerful ways. These analyses are the real story of the litigation — not the formulas that enabled them.
The Wisconsin voter ID case Ruthelle Frank v. Scott Walker will continue without Frank. The Village of Brokaw woman died June 4 at the age of 89, without seeing the resolution of the civil rights case that bears her name. In 2011, Frank became the lead plaintiff in the case, which was filed by the ACLU. Frank was a village alderwoman who couldn’t vote in her own election because she didn’t have an ID or the birth certificate she needed to obtain one. “Well, that was just a slap in the face,” Frank said at the time. “They wouldn’t even look at my other papers. I had everything. I had my social security card. I had my marriage license. I had proof where I lived, and I had all the other requirements. The only thing I didn’t have was a birth certificate. I don’t feel that I should have to have a birth certificate to be able to vote.”
Wisconsin: U.S. Supreme Court to hear Wisconsin’s redistricting case but blocks redrawing of maps | Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case that found Wisconsin Republicans overreached in 2011 by drawing legislative districts that were so favorable to them that they violated the U.S. Constitution. In a related ruling Monday, the high court handed Republicans a victory by blocking a lower court ruling that the state develop new maps by Nov. 1. Democrats and those aligned with them took that order as a sign they could lose the case. The case is being watched nationally because it will likely resolve whether maps of lawmakers’ districts can be so one-sided that they violate the constitutional rights of voters. The question has eluded courts for decades. The court’s ultimate ruling could shift how legislative and congressional lines are drawn — and thus who controls statehouses and Congress. “This is a blockbuster. This could become the most important election law case in years if not decades,” said Joshua Douglas, a University of Kentucky College of Law professor and co-editor of the book “Election Law Stories.”
Wisconsin: Milwaukee County Board urges state Legislature to create nonpartisan redistricting panel | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
The Milwaukee County Board on Thursday urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to create an independent panel responsible for redrawing congressional and legislative districts that do not favor one political party over another. The board’s action comes three days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on appeal that found Wisconsin Republicans in 2011 drew legislative district maps so favorable to their party that the districts violated the federal constitution. In that case, a panel of federal judges ruled 2-1 last year that Wisconsin GOP lawmakers had drawn Assembly district maps so skewed for Republicans that they violated voting rights of Democrats. The maps allowed Republicans to lock in huge majorities in the Assembly and state Senate without competitive elections, according to complainants.
Assembly lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would have blocked a statewide presidential election recount in 2016. After votes in the 2016 presidential election were counted, Green Party candidate Jill Stein — who came in fourth in the race — requested a recount. Had the bill authored by Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Rep. Ron Tusler, R-Harrison, been law, only Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who lost to President Donald Trump by less than 1 percent, would have been able to request a recount.
Poll workers would be able to trade their paper and pens for laptops and printers by next year’s fall elections under a plan Wisconsin election officials approved Tuesday to develop electronic poll books. The state Elections Commission voted unanimously to have its staff develop e-poll book software and offer it to local election clerks on a pilot basis beginning in February. The commission plans to offer the software to clerks statewide by the August 2018 primaries. The project is expected to cost about $124,865 in staff time. Municipalities that decide to use the system would have to purchase hardware such as laptops and printers at a rate of $475 to $970 per voter check-in station at the polls.
Wisconsin: Elections Commission to weigh electronic poll books at voting locations | Wisconsin State Journal
The state Elections Commission will weigh whether to help municipalities adopt electronic poll books — record-keeping devices used in lieu of paper rosters at Election Day polling places. The item is on the agenda for the commission’s Tuesday meeting. E-poll books have not been used in Wisconsin, but the commission says they are used in at least 27 states. Like their paper counterparts, the devices contain lists of registered voters in a municipality, as well as voter signatures and other information about voters. If commissioners move toward the use of e-poll books, they could be employed for the fall 2018 election, according to a spokesman for the commission, Reid Magney.
Wisconsin: In gerrymandering case, Wisconsin awaits word from high court on map that entrenched GOP’s legislative power | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The U.S. Supreme Court could announce as soon as Monday how it’s handling a landmark legal fight over Wisconsin’s gerrymandered political map, which has helped lock in legislative majorities for the GOP since it took power in 2011. The key legal question: Can a set of political districts be so stacked toward one party that it violates the Constitution? Until the court speaks, that is unsettled law. But while the law is uncertain, the politics are quite clear. Legislative boundaries like Wisconsin’s present a stark civics question: How meaningful are elections when control of the legislature in a competitive state is largely predetermined by the way the districts are drawn?