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Opinion: Wisconsin's Supreme Court election is a chance to fix state's gerrymandered maps

The fight for fair maps is about unlocking democracy for all Wisconsinites.

By TAI Contributor - February 14, 2023
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Wisconsin gerrymandering
FILE - More than 100 opponents of the Republican redistricting plans vow to fight the maps at a rally ahead of a joint legislative committee hearing at the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. In overturning a half-century of nationwide legal protection for abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided and that it was time to “return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives” in the states. But some question whether gerrymandering has diminished the ability of state legislatures to truly represent the people's will. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)

Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court election in April presents an opportunity to dismantle the state’s gerrymandered maps that since 2011 have ensured one-party control of the state Legislature despite the will of the voters.

Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. In the 2022 midterm election, Democrats got 51% of the vote statewide yet only 30% of the seats in the state Legislature. We must fight to restore democracy regardless of which party tries to employ this strategy.

The fight for fair maps is about unlocking democracy for all Wisconsinites so that people have the power to elect their representatives instead of allowing politicians to pick their voters.

Gerrymandering in Wisconsin has contributed to political polarization, the growth of far-right extremism, and the blocking of important state legislation by elected officials who do not feel they are accountable to their voters or communities. This has resulted in political gridlock at the state level and has blocked access to safe and legal abortion, driver’s licenses and state IDs, and tuition equity for Wisconsin’s immigrant communities.

The blocked policies both center the needs of the state’s working-class families and are widely popular across party lines.

Voces de la Frontera is a statewide organization that organizes working-class Latino and immigrant families and multiracial youth to advance the struggle for workers’ rights, immigrant rights, and education rights. We have witnessed firsthand the consequences of this lack of democracy in the struggle for immigrants’ rights in Wisconsin.

This year, Voces de la Frontera Action will be engaging our members and the larger community to turn out the vote for the February 21 primary and the April 4 general election. Our elected board members have issued a joint endorsement of Judge Everett Mitchell and Judge Janet Protasiewicz. Both have made clear their commitment to restoring fair maps in Wisconsin.

For many, Wisconsin conjures up images of a picturesque state dotted with cities, towns, and villages with quintessential historic downtowns that host niche family festivals and events that create a vibrant sense of community. Yet for some Wisconsin residents, the simple and necessary act of driving is filled with fear, the threat of deportation, and separation from their families.

For decades, Wisconsin provided a simple and straightforward process for people who lacked a Social Security number to apply for a Wisconsin driver’s license or state ID. To secure a driver’s license, you had to present documents that establish identity and residency and pass a written and driving exam to demonstrate you know the rules of the road, as well as pass a visual exam. But in 2007, in accordance with a federal law called REAL ID, the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles was forced to deny residents without a Social Security number the ability to get or renew their driver’s licenses.

I vividly recall an undocumented father and construction worker who bravely spoke out at a public hearing at the Wisconsin state Capitol on the need to restore driver’s licenses to immigrants. He shared that his young children would make the sign of the cross in silent prayer while sitting in the back seat of the car whenever they passed a police officer. Immigrant families know that a simple infraction of driving without a license can lead to criminal charges, deportation, and separation from their loved ones.

In addition to the estimated 32,000 immigrants that are undocumented and would qualify for driver’s licenses, there are more than 6,500 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that live in Wisconsin, according to figures from the American Immigration Council. DACA recipients — also known as Dreamers — came to the United States at a young age and have a temporary protected status that grants a work visa and access to driver’s licenses. This protection may soon be repealed by the conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many DACA recipients hold essential jobs such as teaching, nursing, and other professions. If the court strikes down their protected status, they could become part of the undocumented population, forced to leave these critical jobs at a time of labor shortage. They would then be unable to drive legally, and their status would lead to more families living in poverty and lower contributions to our tax base for critical public services such as roads, medical clinics, and schools. More importantly, there would be a tremendous loss of talent in young people who overcame great obstacles to pursue their educational aspirations.

Through our Voceros for the Vote program, we have built a statewide person-to-person network of more than 30,000 voters, a majority of them new or infrequent voters. We are rebuilding the Coalition for Safe Roads to create a diverse coalition from all walks of life, urban, suburban, and rural, to make Wisconsin the 19th state to win back access to driver’s licenses for immigrants.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed how critical immigrant workers are to Wisconsin’s economy. As a dairy state, 70% of the milk that is produced in Wisconsin depends on immigrant workers, a majority of whom are undocumented. Immigrant workers hold up Wisconsin’s dairy industry as well as other industries such as meatpacking, agriculture, construction, hospitality, sanitation, landscaping, domestic work, and home health care.

For Wisconsin’s immigrant families and their allies, the dream of a state where all families thrive lies in a favorable outcome for this spring’s state Supreme Court race.

It’s an election that many people are unaware is even happening, and they don’t know why it matters, despite its importance in the struggle for justice and democracy both in Wisconsin and nationally in the 2024 presidential race.

If you live in Wisconsin and are tired of political gridlock and injustice, join the struggle for fair maps by voting in the Supreme Court election and join us in the struggle to make Wisconsin a welcoming state for all. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

Christine Neumann-Ortiz is the executive director and founder of Voces de la Frontera/Voces de la Frontera Action.


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