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RELEASE: In Wisconsin, Partisan Gerrymandering Negatively Affects Legislative Accountability and Fair Representation
Press Release

RELEASE: In Wisconsin, Partisan Gerrymandering Negatively Affects Legislative Accountability and Fair Representation

Washington, D.C. — To account for changes in population, the principle of “one person, one vote” requires states to redraw their election districts every 10 years. In some states, legislators can manipulate district boundaries to benefit their own political party, engaging in extreme partisan gerrymandering. Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case in which a group of voters—represented by the Campaign Legal Center—are challenging maps drawn in Wisconsin. The case will determine whether these maps were drawn unconstitutionally to benefit one political party over another.

While Wisconsin is currently at the center of this fight, it is just one of several states where partisan gerrymandering is particularly acute. Extreme partisan gerrymandering weakens voters’ ability to affect election outcomes and exercise accountability over government, negatively affecting the responsiveness of legislators and crippling fair representation. Ahead of tomorrow’s hearing, Center for American Progress experts Liz Kennedy and Billy Corriher have prepared state-specific fact sheets on states with some of the most extreme examples of partisan gerrymandering and its consequences: WisconsinMichiganNorth CarolinaOhioRhode Island, and Virginia.

“Gerrymandering leads to less competitive elections, and this means legislators don’t have to worry about what voters think. Democracy is about voters being able to influence their elected officials, but gerrymandering makes it harder for voters to make their voice heard,” said Billy Corriher, deputy director of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the fact sheets.

Gill v. Whitford is just the latest example of Wisconsin’s issues in this arena. In 2012, Republican legislators in Wisconsin gained a supermajority—60 out of 90 seats—despite losing the statewide popular vote. In other words, more people voted for Democratic candidates, but nevertheless, two-thirds of the legislative seats went to Republicans. Because of the way the maps were drawn, voters weren’t able to change who controlled the government because, as the lower court that struck down Wisconsin’s distorted maps pointed out, “in any likely electoral scenario, the number of Republican seats would not drop below 50%.”

Shielded from accountability to their voters, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted an agenda that defied the preferences of most of its constituents. To stop frustrated citizens from turning to their local governments, the Legislature passed unpopular laws preventing local governments from setting their own rules in a variety of areas. In one egregious case, after cities and counties across the state put minimum wage referenda on the ballot in 2014, and the referenda won in all 13 jurisdictions—with two-thirds of all voters in favor—the raises could not go into effect because of a new state law preventing local minimum wage increases. This failure of fair representation has real consequences: 85,000 Wisconsinites lost out on access to affordable and quality health care due to the Legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act—a decision opposed by 56 percent of voters from both parties. In another blow to economic equity, although two-thirds of Wisconsinites think the rich should pay higher taxes, the Legislature has passed a series of tax cuts overwhelmingly favoring the state’s wealthiest residents. The Legislature has repeatedly blocked bills to help student loan borrowers refinance their loans—a move supported by more than two-thirds of Wisconsinites in a recent poll. More than 750,000 people in the state have federal student loan debt.

“The bottom line is that extreme partisan gerrymandering discriminates against targeted voters by locking them out of achieving representational power. This prevents progress on solutions that majorities of voters support, such as a higher minimum wage and expanded Medicaid programs,” said Liz Kennedy, director of Democracy and Government Reform at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the fact sheets. “In Gill v. Whitford, the Supreme Court has to stand up for the right to fair representation in our democracy and set limits on partisan gerrymandering to prevent these continuing abuses.”

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For more information or to speak to an expert on this topic, please contact Tanya Arditi at [email protected] or 202.741.6258.