Federal trial over redistricting maps now underway

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MILWAUKEE -- Will new voter maps stay, or will they go? That's what a federal court is deciding during a trial on the issue that began Thursday after two days earlier this week where judges told the Legislature to try to come up with a solution that everyone can agree upon. Some are challenging the fairness of the maps, saying they favor electing Republicans, and Republican leadership said they wanted to move forward with a trial.

The trial is expected to continue Thursday evening and Friday, and a decision is expected Friday.

Peter Barca, the Assembly Minority Leader was called to the stand Thursday to tell the judges what he knows, and why he believes the process the Majority Party used to redraw voter district maps was unconstitutional.

Governor Scott Walker's office is raising the cap to pay lawyers defending the process - up from around $500,000 to nearly $1 million. "It is remarkable the amount of money they have been willing to put forward on behalf of trying to protect this proposal, which we believe is unconstitutional. It's unfortunate for the taxpayers," Barca said.

In an opening statement by the Attorney General's Office, Maria Lazar told the justice: "There are no requirements to take politics out of the redistricting process. Legislation passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor is presumed constitutional."

Those challenging the maps testified the Latino community was split in the remapping, making it difficult for minority interests to have any power in future elections.

The director of the Government Accountability Board, Kevin Kennedy, took the stand as well Thursday, saying as things stand now, if there are recall elections this spring, they would be held under the previous maps.

Some aren't sure that would stand, and want to make sure their interests are protected, either way.

The trial went into the evening Thursday in federal court, and testimony centered around Ken Mayer, a UW-Madison political scientiest. Mayer argues the new maps drawn by Republicans moves 50 people for every one person that should be moved to balance the districts. He also says the new Wisconsin maps disenfranchise about 299,000 people, by making them wait longer to vote in Senate elections.

Mayer also says the rearranging of Senate districts 22 and 21 to put Racine and Kenosha into the same district seems to shuffle people without justification.

Attorneys for the Republicans argued Mayers numbers are overinflated. They say he's counting people twice: when they're moved from a district, and when they're moved into another.

Republican attorneys also argue Mayer doesn't have the proper experience to pick apart a redistricting map, having never drawn one himself. Those attorneys, from the Attorney General's Office, refused to comment until after the court proceedings are complete.

The three-judge panel made it very clear the trial will end Friday, no matter how late in the day it needs to go.