Posted by Brendan Fischer on February 04, 2013

The GOP's partisan redistricting process has come under renewed scrutiny in recent months, with gerrymandered maps helping Republicans hold Congress despite receiving fewer votes than Democrats, and state legislators discussing plans to rig the presidential election by awarding electoral votes according to those contorted boundaries. But out of all the states re-drawing Congressional boundaries along partisan lines after the 2010 elections, Wisconsin's gerrymandering may have been the most egregious.

As neuroscientist Sam Wang explained in Sunday's New York Times, "Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II."

Wisconsin was one of five states where the party that won more than half of the votes for Congress got fewer than half of the seats. Largely because of redistricting, Republicans in Wisconsin received just 49 percent of the 2.9 million votes cast in the state's congressional races, but won five out of eight seats, or 62.5 percent. And that redistricting process was carried out with a nearly unprecedented level of secrecy and obfuscation.

"An all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny"

Once every ten years, state legislatures draw new election maps to account for population changes recorded in the latest U.S. Census.

"What could have -- indeed should have -- been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny," wrote a three-judge federal panel hearing a challenge to Wisconsin's Republican-drawn maps in February 2012.

The drawn-out legal battles over the Wisconsin maps have most recently resulted in subpoenas to Assembly Majority Leader Robin Vos for the computers related to the redistricting.

In past decades, courts had largely drawn Wisconsin's maps because no single party controlled state government. But in 2011, Republicans controlled the Senate, House, and Governor's mansion, and were in a position to single-handedly draw and approve maps that benefited their party. As ProPublica recently reported, in Wisconsin and elsewhere a network of corporate and "dark money" funders spent tens of millions to influence state races in 2010 and then engineer the gerrymandered maps -- a $30 million effort that has been highly successful.

Wisconsin Republicans hired a private law firm to help draw the maps and held a series of secret meetings at their law offices, apparently in an attempt to protect the redistricting effort from public view and disguise it behind attorney-client privilege.

But a federal court hearing a challenge to those maps sharply rebuked that argument.

"Disinformation, foot-dragging, and obfuscation"

The three-judge panel issued two orders in late 2011 rejecting the invocation of attorney-client privilege and demanding that Republicans turn over nearly all redistricting-related documents. After Republican legislators and their lawyers continued working to keep the material confidential, the court ordered the attorneys pay $17,500 in fees for filing frivolous motions.

"Quite frankly," the court wrote, "the Legislature and the actions of its counsel give every appearance of flailing wildly in a desperate attempt to hide from both the court and the public the true nature of exactly what transpired in the redistricting process." The court "will not suffer the sort of disinformation, foot-dragging, and obfuscation now being engaged in by Wisconsin's elected officials and/or their attorneys."

In early February of 2012, GOP legislators released multiple documents, but continued to keep around 84 emails confidential. The three judges -- two of them appointed by Republican presidents -- again criticized the Republican legislators for "an all but shameful attempt" to keep documents secret, writing:

"Without a doubt, the Legislature made a conscious choice to involve private lawyers in what gives every appearance of an attempt -- albeit poorly disguised -- to cloak the private machinations of Wisconsin's Republican legislators in the shroud of attorney-client privilege."

According to the documents that were released, Republican legislators signed a pledge of secrecy during the redistricting process and were told to ignore what GOP leaders said publicly about the new election maps. Wisconsin's Capitol Times editorial board wrote at the time "It is hard to look at this evidence and come away with any conclusion save the obvious one: that [now-Assembly Leader Robin] Vos led a deliberate effort to deceive the public, violate rules and standards and warp the legislative process for his and his political allies' advantage."

CMD Highlights ALEC's Redistricting Activities; Leads to More Legal Wrangling

The court ruled in February of 2012 that two of the districts violated the voting rights of Latinos. However, U.S. Supreme Court precedent discourages redistricting challenges based on partisan chicanery. Despite the court's criticism of the Wisconsin GOP's redistricting process and legal strategy, the maps themselves, rather than the process used in creating them, were the subject of the trial. But that didn't stop Republican legislators from making every possible effort to keep that process secret.

As the federal court ruled on Wisconsin's maps, the Center for Media and Democracy (publishers of PRwatch.org) revealed that the highly partisan American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was involved in redistricting, based on emails obtained through open records requests to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. ALEC had pushed redistricting approaches spearheaded by the former lawyer for the national Republican Party, Mark Braden, and hosted a special conference call with that partisan lawyer to advise ALEC legislators on redistricting.

The emails CMD obtained were not released to the lawyers challenging the maps. But they should have been. This failure to release all redistricting-related documents opened a new round of legal wrangling, with the court questioning what other documents Republican legislators and their lawyers had kept secret.

In recent weeks, this has led to subpoenas for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin) and other legislators to conduct an independent search of computers used in redistricting, in order to identify whether other records were withheld. (A deal was later reached and the subpoenas were withdrawn.)

Republican legislators have already charged Wisconsin taxpayers $1.9 million in legal fees, and last week hired another law firm to defend their actions, meaning the price tag will continue to rise.

GOP Proposals Would Use Gerrymandered Maps to Select President

As CMD has reported for months, Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that might use these secretly-drawn and highly-partisan Congressional maps to change how the state's electoral votes for president are allocated. The proposal would end the longstanding practice of allocating presidential elector votes according to the winner of the statewide popular vote, and replace it with a plan to award electoral votes according to the victor in each gerrymandered Congressional district.

If Wisconsin had such a plan in place for the 2012 elections, the state's ten electoral college votes would have been split evenly between Obama and Romney, despite Obama winning in the state by nearly seven points.

As CMD first revealed, ALEC has lobbied against efforts to implement a national popular vote, which would replace the electoral college system currently being rigged for partisan gain.

Additionally, ALEC "model" voter ID legislation has been tied to the wave of voter ID bills that swept the country in 2011 and 2012. But as Professor Wang points out in the New York Times, "gerrymandering is [also] a major form of disenfranchisement," with millions of votes effectively diluted or deleted by moving district lines in such a way where one party can win a majority of seats even if the other party wins a majority of votes.

"[T]he number of wasted votes [through gerrymandering] dwarfs the likely effect of voter-ID laws," he surmises.

Groups like Common Cause Wisconsin, as well as the editorial boards of the state's two largest newspapers, have called for replacing the partisan redistricting process with an independent redistricting board. Whether Wisconsin's Republican-led legislature will implement those changes is another question. But as Professor Wang notes: "It's up to us to take control of the process, slay the gerrymander, and put the people back in charge of what is, after all, our House."

Comments

Hey even in backward Arizona we have a nonpartisan redistricting board. It still pisses off the GOP but it works.

Learning from experience American Founders had the vision of providing an equity safeguard in the Constitution against legal fiction created by treasonous and usurping legislators and judges, both State and Federal. Article III, Section 2 reads in pertinent part: "The judicial Power [of an honest judge]shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under the Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;---....to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;---to Controversies between two or more States;---[between a State and Citizens of another State;---]*...[*Changed by the Eleventh Amendment.]

“‘Equity’ has said to be the name of the principles under which substantial justice may be attained in particular cases where the prescribed or customary forms of ordinary law seem to be inadequate. The word describes a system of jurisprudence and it is employed to designate the principles or standards of that system. Such a use of the word is illustrated by the maxim, ‘Equity’ regards as done that which ought to be done.’” Jur (1996), p. 520-21

The full weight of the law must be brought to bear on this voter suppression and gerrymandering! No democracy can tolerate or survive such underhanded tricks and skullduggery; but I suppose after all that is the intent. It appears what we are encountering is an assault on the will of the people; an absolute power grab. The right-wing American Legislative and Exchange Council (ALEC) whose members are predominately American businesses and right wing conservatives have for many years steadily pushed a secret agenda to undermine the people and the government at all levels. They have poured untold millions into their KGB-like tactics of perpetuating propaganda and disinformation. Due to their bought-and-paid-for lack of regulations they were allowed to buy too much of the public air waves. They have for many years sent out their disciples to wag their boneless tongues, to malign and denigrate all who opposed them in an effort to gain control of how people perceived government and divert their attention from what was actually happening. They have vilified any and all who stood on the side of the people and democracy and they continue to do so today. It is their plan to cripple and tear down every government agency that receives tax money from taxpayers. They want it all privatized so they can get their hands on that big pie. I believe that would help businesses and their shareholders rather than most of the people in this country. It is not enough that the largest part of the wealth pie in the last 20 – 30 years has gone to the top few; they now want more of it. We are at the point that big banks on Wall Street, big oil companies, and mega corporations are dictating to the states and the federal government what they can and can’t do. How does this scenario differ from fascism? As an old daughter of the American Revolution I know this is NOT what our forefathers fought and died for! I do not see this as anything other than sabotage of our democracy. The Justice Department needs to do a lot of investigating of ALEC. However, they will have to do a much better job investigating ALEC than they have investigating Wall Street. If we ever hope to end this ongoing concerted plan to undermine America we must continue to call out these enemies of America and demand they be exposed for what they are.

Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura noted the role of the Demopublican two-sides-of-the-same-corporatist American one-party system:

'I believe the system is so corrupt, the two parties have corrupted it so bad, . . . there can’t be any change. . . I don’t distinguish between the two because it’s very much like pro [theatrical] wrestling. You (give) interviews on TV like you hate each other, to draw crowds and attention and make money. But behind closed doors, you’ll go out to dinner with each other. Well, the Democrats and Republicans are the same way. They’re not adversaries; they just make believe they are to the American public.' (quoted in Edwards & Brynaert 2010).

Bill Moyers presents "United States of ALEC," a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.