Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Federal judges strike down Wisconsin redistricting, set possible standard for judging partisanship

A panel of federal judges ruled Monday that legislative districts drawn in 2011 by Wisconsin Republicans unconstitutionally favored GOP candidates, and for the first time adopted a "clear mathematical formula for measuring partisanship in a district," reports Michael Wines of The New York Times. The case gives the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to provide a new standard for redistricting both legislative and congressional seats after the 2020 census.

The judges ruled 2-1 "that the maps were unconstitutional because they were 'intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters ... by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats'," , Jason Stein and Patrick Marley report for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
(Maps: Wisconsin election results, 2008 and 2012; middle map shows imputed 2012 results with plan having less partisanship)
"In 2012, Republicans won 61 percent of the Assembly seats with only 48.6 percent of the statewide vote," Katelyn Ferral reports for The Capital Times in Madison. "In 2014, the GOP secured 64 percent of Assembly seats, only garnering 52 percent of the statewide vote." Stein and Marley write, The decision comes two weeks "after an election that gave Republicans their biggest majority in the Assembly since the 1956 election. They will begin the legislative session in January with 64 of the 99 seats."

Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote "It is clear that the drafters were concerned with, and convinced of, the durability of their plan. We conclude, therefore, that the evidence establishes that one of the purposes of Act 43 was to secure Republican control of the Assembly under any likely future electoral scenario for the remainder of the decade; in other words, to entrench the Republican Party in power." The concurring judge was appointed by Jimmy Carter; the dissenter was appointed by George W. Bush.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel said the state will appeal the decision. As a redistricting decision, it would go directly to the Supreme Court, "where its fate may rest with a single justice, Anthony M. Kennedy, who has expressed a willingness to strike down partisan gerrymanders but has yet to accept a rationale for it," Wines reports. "In Monday’s ruling, the court was swayed by a new and simple mathematical formula to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering, called the efficiency gap."

Wines explains: "The formula divides the difference between the two parties’ 'wasted votes' — votes beyond those needed by a winning side, and votes cast by a losing side — by the total number of votes cast. When both parties waste the same number of votes, the result is zero — an ideal solution. But as a winning party wastes fewer and fewer votes than its opponent, its score rises. A truly efficient gerrymander spreads a winning party’s votes so evenly over districts that very few votes are wasted. A review of four decades of state redistricting plans concluded that any party with an efficiency gap of 7 percent or more was likely to keep its majority during the 10 years before new districts were drawn. In Wisconsin, experts testified, Republicans scored an efficiency gap rating of 11.69 percent to 13 percent in the first election after the maps were redrawn in 2011."

Wines concludes, "Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said on Monday that a number of state redistricting plans, including those in Virginia, North Carolina and Michigan, have efficiency gap scores rivaling those of Wisconsin." (Read more)

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