UPDATE November 21, 2016: WE WIN! The Court declared the Wisconsin legislative district map unconstitutional. You can see the order in the Documents section and our press release in the Newsroom section!
Note: The case name changed from "Whitford v Nichol" to "Whitford v Gill" when the leadership of the state's election authority transferred earlier in 2016.
Earlier update: The federal three-judge panel in Wisconsin's Western District ruled unanimously -- twice -- in Whitford v Nichol to continue the case to trial, denying the state's motions for dismissal and summary judgement and preventing the defendants from short-circuiting the case. This is the first partisan gerrymandering case to survive a motion to dismiss in almost 30 years, and the trial began on Tuesday, May 24. Visit facebook.com/wifairelections and twitter.com/wifairelections for updates in real time.
"Wisconsin is the most extreme partisan gerrymander in the United States in the post-2010 cycle," said attorney Gerry Hebert, who's the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center. "It's about as far out from what you would consider to be fair as you can imagine." (Wisconsin Public Radio, May 24, 2016)
The Fair Elections Project, a project of the High Ground Institute, is working to change how politics works in the United States and help end the partisan gridlock that grips the nation. When elections don’t really matter because the district lines determine which party will be in control, the people don’t have a voice. This is contrary both to our historical tradition of fairness and the Constitutional requirement that all voters are equal citizens.
We oppose partisan gerrymandering, and are working to ask the courts to implement a standard that can measure when there's too much partisan gerrymandering, violating the Constitutional rights of the citizens of a given state.
In our first case, 12 citizens from across Wisconsin have filed suit in federal court demanding relief for the violation of their Constitutional rights, presenting evidence that the current Wisconsin legislative districts map is one of the “worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history,” making their votes meaningless.
The Fair Elections Project is also working with citizens in other states to bring suits against other gerrymandered maps, whether drawn by Democrats or Republicans.
As we say in our Wisconsin complaint, “This kind of partisan gerrymandering is both unconstitutional and profoundly undemocratic. It is unconstitutional because it treats voters unequally, diluting their voting power based on their political beliefs, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, and because it unreasonably burdens their First Amendment rights of association and free speech.”
“Extreme partisan gerrymandering is also contrary to core democratic values,” continues the complaint. “In the end, a political minority is able to rule the majority and to entrench itself in power by periodically manipulating election boundaries.”
The suit includes two expert reports proving that the gerrymander in Wisconsin is extreme, durable, and far outside Constitutional norms, and proposes a clear standard for the courts to determine whether a gerrymander is acceptable or not. The standard measures the “efficiency gap” to ensure parties convert votes into seats in an equitable manner.
The suit and an associated public information campaign also call attention to the secretive and partisan way in which the Wisconsin maps were drawn to overly advantage the incumbent majority, including through the use of secrecy agreements and sophisticated technology to permanently disenfranchise some voters.
Former State Senators Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), who each served as majority leader of the senate when their party was in control, are co-chairing the Wisconsin campaign. Former State Senator Dan Theno (R-Ashland) is also providing leadership. This is a nonpartisan campaign designed to make the districts in Wisconsin fair so the legislature reflects the will of the people.
“Democracy requires access for every citizen, and it requires truly competitive elections,” said Schultz. “When elections aren’t competitive, we see corruption, and we see hubris.”
“These districts have clearly been drawn to protect not only incumbents, but a permanent majority that doesn’t need to worry about voters,” said Cullen. “Many of our fellow citizens – from all political persuasions, from all walks of life – simply have lost faith that their government is listening to them.”
Materials about the campaign and lawsuit are posted at fairelectionsproject.org and the campaign can be accessed through social media at @WIFairElections on Facebook and Twitter. The mailing address for the campaign is 5027 W. North Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53208 and the email is firstname.lastname@example.org.