News & Election Videos

Dems drop several claims in lawsuit over Wis. maps

Dinesh Ramde

Lawyers arguing over the legality of Wisconsin's election maps in a federal trial said Friday they have dropped several of their claims, leaving two main issues for a three-judge panel to resolve.

The case centers on maps that are redrawn every 10 years to ensure that political districts across the state each encompass about the same number of voters. Democrats and an immigrant-rights group are suing to prevent the state elections board from conducting elections based on the new maps.

The plaintiffs said they dropped several allegations late Thursday, including a claim that Assembly districts had been drawn inappropriately in predominantly black neighborhoods and that the discriminatory effect of the maps was intentional.

That leaves two major issues. One is whether the maps deprived Latinos of their constitutional rights, and the other is whether some 300,000 voters were needlessly moved into and out of districts, delaying when some could vote in a Senate election.

The attorneys didn't elaborate on their reasons for dropping the claims. But the announcement followed a declaration from the court late Thursday that the trial would enter its last day Friday and go all night and into Saturday morning if necessary, and that the attorneys should consider dropping their weakest arguments to prevent drawing out the proceedings more than necessary.

An expert witness testified Thursday that the voting rights of black and Latino communities in Wisconsin would be "significantly diminished" under the maps the Republican-led Legislature passed last year.

Lawmakers are required to follow certain guidelines when redrawing the maps after each census. For example, new districts generally have to be based on the previous ones, they must be compact and contiguous and they should minimize the number of residents who get shifted from one district to another.

But these maps violate those principles, several witnesses testified.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the director of Latino group Voces de la Frontera, said the new maps weaken the voting power of Latinos in Milwaukee by adding non-Latino residents who haven't been sympathetic to Latino causes to a district that had been mostly Hispanic. That change will make it harder for Latino voters to elect candidates who share their views on immigration, education and workers' rights, she said.

The three judges had shown some reluctance to hear the case, saying the issue of redrawing election maps is better handled by lawmakers than the court. They encouraged lawmakers twice to voluntarily review the maps. Both times, Democratic leaders were willing, but Republican leaders refused.

The maps also drew criticism for shifting too many people into new districts. The issue is important because people who are placed in new districts might no longer be represented by leaders they previously helped elect. Also, because of the way state Senate races are staggered every two years, some voters could conceivably have to wait an additional two years to cast ballots for that office.

Kenneth Mayer, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the maps move far more people than is necessary. For example, he said one Assembly district was under-populated by 379 people. The mapmakers' proposal added a net of 217 people, but they did so by moving 29,936 people into the district and moving 29,719 out. That means nearly 60,000 were shifted when only 400 needed to be.

The new maps "significantly diminish" the opportunity of those additional residents to participate in the political process, he said.

In her opening statement, defense attorney Maria Lazar said the new maps have already been passed by the Legislature and are to be presumed constitutional.

"The process of legislation is not on trial," she said. "That body does not have to draw a map that satisfies everyone because that would be impossible."

The Associated Press