Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Gov. Tony Evers Signs New Election Maps, Shifting Wisconsin’s Legislative Balance After a Decade of Gerrymandering

Court-ordered redistricting in Wisconsin creates opportunity for Democrats to challenge Republican dominance of state legislature.

evers
John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP

For over ten years, a shadow of anti-democratic practices hung over Wisconsin, rendering state legislature elections inconsequential. Beginning in 2012, the Republican stronghold on the state legislature remained unshaken, regardless of the electorate’s preference in this battleground state. This occurred because of the Wisconsin Republicans’ strategic gerrymandering, which all but assured their dominance.

In 2022, it was more obvious than ever that the game was rigged when Tony Evers, a Democrat, secured a 51.2% majority in the gubernatorial race while the Republicans still secured 65% of the seats in the 99-member state assembly.

However, as of February 19, this chapter has come to a close. A pivotal 4-3 decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in December invalidated the legislative maps, citing numerous non-contiguous districts that breached the state’s constitutional contiguity requirement. The court called upon the legislature, the governor, and other stakeholders to propose new maps, threatening to intervene with its own version should a consensus not be reached.

After considerable negotiation, the Republican-majority legislature adopted new maps proposed by Governor Evers last week. This significant development has the potential to alter Wisconsin’s political landscape, offering Democrats an opportunity to vie for assembly control this year, and possibly the state senate by 2026, which could lead to full governance control.

According to John Johnson, a Marquette Law School research fellow, this introduces an element of uncertainty regarding assembly control post-November elections, a situation not witnessed in over a decade.

The redefined assembly map addresses the previous decade’s gerrymandering issues by realigning districts. For example, it rectifies the fragmentation of Democratic votes in Sheboygan, consolidating the city into a single district.

A similar strategy was applied in Green Bay, where Democratic-leaning areas previously merged with conservative regions to form staunch Republican districts are now reorganized into two competitive districts. Moreover, the map restructures the south-central region of the state, introducing five additional districts leaning towards the Democrats, marking a significant shift.

Despite initial skepticism from Democrats regarding the Republicans’ last-minute decision to implement Evers’ maps, it appears to be a strategic choice, minimizing incumbent clashes and maintaining a Republican majority in the state senate for the interim, thus securing control over at least one legislative chamber until the conclusion of Evers’ second term in 2026.

It’s important to note that the map is still tilted in favor of the Republicans. In a scenario where the state assembly vote is evenly split, the expectation is that Republicans would secure an additional 6% of the seats, as per insights from Planscore, a platform that quantifies electoral maps using mathematical approaches. But it still represents a significant improvement, as previously a tie in the vote would have seen Republicans enjoying a 15% surplus in seats.

Despite the opportunity for a shift in assembly control, the map does not significantly increase the tally of districts with closely matched competitions, as observed by Johnson. “It raises the Democratic floor, and lowers the Republican ceiling, but it’s not a map that was drawn to maximize the number of closely contested seats around the state,” Johnson remarked. “Now those competitive districts are far more consequential than they were under the old maps.”

“You can tell this is a map drawn by Democrats,” he further stated.