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Save Wisconsin Democracy With One Weird Trick

April 7th, 2021, 1:39pm by Zachariah Sippy


One of the most notable partisan gerrymanders in the country can be found in Wisconsin. But a repeat of the offense in 2021 can be prevented – with public input. 

Governor Evers has formed a nonpartisan citizen commission to increase transparency and collect public input, regardless of whether the legislature intends to bypass him or not. If you are a Wisconsinite, we encourage you to make your voice heard. While Evers’ commission won’t have the final say, having your voice on the record could play a key role in potential future litigation. 

In 2011, with a “trifecta” (single-party control of the state assembly, senate, and governorship), Wisconsin Republicans drew a map that assured them legislative control for the decade. 

The unfair nature of the map is best captured by the results from the 2018 Wisconsin State Assembly elections: Democrats won a majority of the popular vote but only captured 36% of the seats. 

That same year, the United States Supreme Court, which had the opportunity to rule partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional in Gill v. Whitford, refused to intervene. 

Luckily, there is good reason to think that Wisconsin won’t be aggressively gerrymandered this year. While Republicans retained their solid legislative majorities after the 2020 elections, Democratic Governor Tony Evers wields veto power. Typically, when it comes to redistricting, divided government results in either a legislative compromise (this happened for Wisconsin’s 2001 congressional map) or a court-drawn map (which occurred for Wisconsin’s 2001 legislative map). 

The public, however, may want to keep their eye on a second potential pathway for passing redistricting plans in the Badger State. In this scenario, GOP legislative leaders could pass a joint-resolution declaring that the Governor has no say in the process and attempt to draw an all-Republican map again. Research at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project has shown that this route, while possible, is unlikely and would fly in the face of six decades of precedent.

If Republicans were to attempt such a drastic plan, the fight would almost certainly wind up at the Wisconsin Supreme Court (where conservatives have a 4-3 majority). That being said, while swing justice Bruce Hagedorn is conservative, he might not be inclined to endorse such a radical position. 

Redistricting requirements in the Badger State

Wisconsin law requires that districts, regardless of who draws them and when, must adhere to certain criteria. For a complete analysis of redistricting criteria in Wisconsin, view our University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law article here. Of particular note is the criteria that all districts in the Badger state must be compact. In addition, respecting communities of interest may also be ranked highly by courts when state judges evaluate draft maps. Of course, this will only occur in the event that the Governor and legislature cannot reach an agreement (which seems probable). In such a case, tools like those created by our partners, Representable.org, can help map-drawers locate communities of interest. 

A recent poll shows that 72% of Wisconsinites want nonpartisan redistricting. Therefore, it is important for that majority to make their voices heard. If citizens hold their officials accountable, they increase the odds of  ensuring fairer district maps for Wisconsin in the upcoming decade. 

Tags: Redistricting

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