Wisconsin Voters Should Choose Their Leaders, Not the Other Way Around

Looking over the shoulder of a woman sitting at a table who is looking at a map which says "Assembly District 22"
Helen Harris, a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, examines a map of her district. She feels that gerrymandering in her state separated her from her community and put her in a district with legislators that didn’t care about her interests. Photo by Patrick Haley

When the people in charge of drawing voting maps are the same people who stand to benefit from influencing those maps, voters lose. Wisconsinites deserve fair maps that give them an equal chance to make their voices heard and elect leaders who will best serve their community.  

Thirteen years ago, Wisconsin politicians drew new district lines behind closed doors and, in defiance of the state constitution, crafted maps that essentially guaranteed one-party control of the legislature. 

This was borne out in 2018 when, despite winning 53% of state Assembly votes cast statewide, Democrats only ended up with 36% of the seats. Every Wisconsinite, regardless of their political party, deserves to have a voice in their government. 

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) partnered with Law Forward, the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, and Arnold & Porter to file a lawsuit on behalf of several Wisconsin voters from across the state who have had their voices silenced by the illegally gerrymandered map. 

After the 2020 census, partisan politicians crafted an even worse gerrymander that continues to silence the voices of voters.  

The lawsuit argues that the state legislative map is an extreme partisan gerrymander which violates the Wisconsin constitution and retaliates against voters for their political views. Elections should be determined by voters, not politicians who manipulate voting maps to benefit themselves. 

Gerrymandering alienates voters from their community and undermines voters’ faith in their elected official’s ability to represent them and tackle the issues that matter to them.  

The Wisconsin state legislative maps drawn in 2011 were among the most gerrymandered in the country. In response to this, CLC in 2016 challenged the maps on the grounds that they were an extreme partisan gerrymandering—bringing the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court left it up to state courts to resolve these cases. 

Not only does the lawsuit allege an extreme partisan gerrymander that silences Wisconsin voters, but the map at issue has other constitutional flaws.  

The Wisconsin constitution requires that districts be contiguous—a redistricting law that requires all parts of a district be physically adjacent to each other—yet over two-thirds of Wisconsinites are living in noncontiguous districts. Some live on “islands” miles away from the rest of their district. 

The failure of the Legislature to even draw contiguous districts illustrates its singular focus on choosing voters rather than the voters choosing their representatives. The gerrymandered map below is designed to lock in one-party control of Wisconsin—a move that severely undermines the freedom to vote and our democracy. 

picture of gerrymandered, noncontiguous districts in Wisconsin

Gerrymandering, no matter which party does it, is a stain on our democracy. Ultimately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court should ensure that further use of the state’s extremely gerrymandered state legislative map is blocked in order to deliver fair maps, protect the freedom to vote, and work to achieve an inclusive, accountable democracy. 

Emma Krug is a Communications Assistant at CLC.