An immigrant advocacy group in Wisconsin has filed a lawsuit against state election officials on the basis that the newly drafted district map unfairly weakens the voice of a growing minority group in the Milwaukee area.
On Monday, Voces de la Frontera – a Wisconsin leading immigrant rights group – filed a federal lawsuit seeking a declaration that Wisconsin’s newly approved legislative redistricting map deprives the Latino community of Milwaukee’s south side of an effective voting majority in the eighth Assembly district.
The lawsuit was filed by Voces de la Frontera and Latino community members Ramiro Vara, Olga Vara, Jose Perez and Erica Ramirez, according to a statement from the group.
“As a result of the redistricting plan, Latino citizens have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice to the Legislature of Wisconsin,” the lawsuit said.
In an email to The Badger Herald, Reid Magney, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, said the newly passed redistricting would come into effect for the regularly-scheduled elections, and therefore, the new districts would first have an impact in November 2012.
According to Magney, the GAB is aware of the lawsuit but has not yet been served. Although the details of the trial are therefore still not known, Magney said while the Legislature draws the district boundaries, in the event of a legal challenge, the GAB is the defendant in the lawsuit.
The statement said the number of Latinos on Milwaukee’s south side has risen dramatically.
“The population of the Latino community on Milwaukee’s south side had increased by 44 percent, to the point that it was sufficiently large to support a geographically compact single legislative district with a majority of voting age Latinos who are citizens of the United States,” the statement said. “The Walker redistricting plan reduces that potential majority to just over 40 percent and demonstrates intent to deprive Milwaukee’s Latino community of a voting majority by dividing and diluting our community’s vote.”
There are some legal precedents in place to make certain that the minority voters are not diluted too much, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry Burden said, but otherwise there are very few restrictions.
Burden said the effect of redistricting on minority groups depends on who is drawing the lines.
“The two basic options are to ‘pack’ minority voters into a common districts or ‘crack’ them between two or more districts to dilute their influence,” Burden said.
This occurs because Republicans are in charge of the current redistricting process in Wisconsin, Burden said. Because Latinos and African Americans tend to favor Democrats, he said the GOP has no interest in maximizing minority voter influence.
“It is complicated – or maybe simplified – because partisanship and demographics tend to go together. A map that favors Republicans is also one that discounts the impact of minority voters,” Burden said. “Courts have to be convinced that only partisan factors are at work and not attempts to weaken minority voter influence.”