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Wisconsin redistricting trial wraps up with 2 witnesses

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal trial to help a judicial panel decide whether Republicans discriminated against Democrats when they redrew state Assembly boundaries five years ago wound down Friday as two political analysts testified the map reflects demographic shifts and doesn’t necessarily guarantee GOP victories.

They were the last witnesses scheduled to take the stand in the four-day bench trial, and the second analyst’s testimony was expected to stretch into early evening. It wasn’t clear whether the three-judge panel would listen to closing arguments. Regardless, they’re not expected to issue a ruling for several weeks or even months.

A group of voters who support Democrats sued last year, alleging that the districts Republican lawmakers created in 2011 marginalize Democrats and ensure the GOP will retain control of the chamber for years. They’ve asked U.S. District Judges Barbara Crabb and William Griesbach along with 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Ripple to declare the districts unconstitutional and redraw them if legislators don’t.

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t been able to come with a legal standard for deciding when redistricting becomes unconstitutional gerrymandering. Wisconsin’s case hinges largely on whether the judges adopt an equation the plaintiffs have proposed for measuring when a party has far exceeded the number of votes needed for its candidate to win a district.

State attorneys have countered that partisanship is to be expected when one party redraws district lines, and that the new boundaries simply reflect a state that has shifted toward Republicans over the last two decades. They also maintain there’s no basis for the plaintiffs’ gerrymandering equation.

Assistant Attorney General Brian Keenan first called Sean Trende, an elections analyst for the Real Clear Politics website. Trende testified that his research shows Wisconsin has been gradually trending Republican, particularly in rural areas, since 1996.

“Overall, the state, the counties, the geography, (has become) a lot redder,” he said.

During cross-examination from Peter Earle, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Trende said he has donated to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as well as four Republican candidates, including John McCain and former President George W. Bush. He also said the state is paying him $300 an hour to testify.

Trying to show that partisan-drawn maps don’t guarantee a party victory, Keenan next called Nicholas Goedert, a LaFayette College political scientist who studies gerrymandering. Goedert testified that such maps often backfire during elections in which the opposing party sweeps to victory across the country.

He also testified that the equation the plaintiffs have proposed is a “very chaotic and highly fluctuating measure” and using it to definitively state whether gerrymandering occurred based on the results of just one election is “dangerous.”

Goedert was expected to testify all Friday afternoon. The judges have asked for post-trial briefs, indicating they plan to issue a written decision sometime in the future. They’re under no deadline to rule.

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