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Tony Evers' commission designs political maps that would improve Democratic margins but retain GOP majorities
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REDISTRICTING | EVERS’ COMMISSION

Tony Evers' commission designs political maps that would improve Democratic margins but retain GOP majorities

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Wisconsin Democrats would see their political prospects improve but Republicans would still likely maintain their legislative majorities under draft versions of the next decade’s political maps created by Gov. Tony Evers’ redistricting commission, which he created to provide an alternative to Republican-authored maps.

Evers’ People’s Maps Commission on Thursday presented three versions each of new Assembly, Senate and congressional maps for lawmakers and judges to consider as the Republican-controlled Legislature fulfills its constitutional duty to present the next decade’s political maps for Evers to sign or veto.

The Census Bureau released its data for 2020, and the findings show a diversifying nation with a migration pattern that will greatly affect its politics going forward. Poppy MacDonald, the president of non-profit data organization USAFacts, joined Cheddar to break down what the shifts mean in terms of congressional seats for states and the first time decline in the white population since 1790. "What we're seeing is we're becoming more diverse as a country, and we're also seeing a migration of population, more people going to the South and more people going to the West in terms of where they're moving," MacDonald said.

GOP lawmakers have enjoyed significant majorities for much of the past decade under the political maps they drew a decade ago with full control of the Legislature under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

A Wisconsin State Journal analysis of unofficial vote totals in Wisconsin legislative races showed that Democratic candidates received 46% of total votes cast in state Assembly races but ended up with only 38 of 99 seats after winning two new districts. In state Senate races, Democratic candidates secured about 47% of total votes, but only picked up 38% of the seats on the ballot and controlled only 12 of 33 seats.

Last year’s voting breakdown wasn’t as stark as in 2018, when Democrats swept all statewide elections and Democratic Assembly candidates secured about 53% of total votes cast, but they only ended up with 36% of the chamber’s seats. In 2016, Republicans garnered 52% of votes cast, yet won 65% of the Assembly seats.

Under the new versions of maps drawn up by Evers’ redistricting commission, Republicans would still retain control of the Senate and Assembly, but with smaller margins.

Possible scenarios

The three versions of Assembly maps would give Republicans a majority of 55, 56, or 58 of 99 members, respectively, if voters cast ballots according to the 2018 governor’s race, a razor-thin contest in which Evers, a Democrat, defeated Walker with 50.56% of the vote compared with Walker’s 49.44%.

If voters in Assembly races cast ballots identical to those in a Democratic landslide (a rare occurrence), such as the 2018 U.S. Senate race in which U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, defeated GOP challenger Leah Vukmir, 55% to 45%, Democrats would control 57% to 60% of Assembly seats.

If compared to a selection of 14 major elections over the past decade, Republicans would still command significant majorities under the proposed maps. According to data provided by the commission, Republicans won 49.6% of the vote over the past 14 major elections. The commission’s proposed plans, on the other hand, would give Republicans anywhere from 54% to 55% of the total combined seats of the past major 14 elections. The current Assembly maps have given Republicans 60% of those total seats.

The three versions of state Senate maps would give Republicans a majority of 17, 18, or 19 of 33 members, respectively, under a 2018 governor’s race scenario.

In a rare Democratic landslide, Democrats would command a Senate majority of 61% to 64%.

The three versions of the commission’s congressional maps would give Republicans either four or five of eight U.S. House seats under a 2018 governor’s race scenario.

In a Democratic landslide scenario, Democrats would control four or five seats. Republicans now control five of eight seats.

Wisconsin’s most competitive, the 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, would remain highly competitive in two of three scenarios similar to the 2018 governor’s race, with Democrats taking the district two of three times. Republicans would narrowly win the district in a 2018 governor’s race scenario if it were drawn to avoid far southwestern Wisconsin and incorporate parts of central Wisconsin, as well as covering the region directly to the east of the Twin Cities.

The state’s highly Democratic 2nd Congressional District, which incorporates Madison, would remain highly Democratic under all three proposed maps, with Democratic margins ranging from 69% to 71% in a 2018 governor’s race scenario.

The principles

Commission member Anthony Phillips said members drew the maps in a nonpartisan fashion while prioritizing respect for community cohesiveness, and avoiding splitting counties and municipalities as best as possible. Once those criteria were met, the commissioners also attempted to match share of seats in the Assembly, Senate and in Congress to vote share each party received over the course of 14 major elections in the past decade.

“I think these maps have moved the yardstick,” Phillips said. “These maps were drawn with a completely nonpartisan philosophy. I think these maps would be healthy for the state of Wisconsin. I think these maps would return some responsiveness to the election, some proportionality. I think these maps would eventually result in politicians that move somewhat more to the middle, and are more responsive to their constituents.”

Whole counties

The maps the commissioners have proposed reduce the number of counties that are split up by district lines. The proposed Assembly maps would split anywhere from 38 to 46 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, compared with 58 under the current maps.

The proposed Senate maps would split anywhere from 27 to 40 counties, compared with the current 46. The proposed congressional maps would split anywhere from six to nine counties, compared with 12 under the current maps.

Evers has claimed the commission is nonpartisan and is meant to provide an alternative set of Assembly, Senate and congressional maps that are free from partisan bias or advantage, compact, and contiguous. The maps are also meant to avoid diluting minority votes; avoid splitting wards and municipalities; retain the core population in each district; maintain traditional communities who share a common identity; and prevent voter disenfranchisement.

The commission excluded lawmakers, lobbyists and party officials from participating.

Next steps

Republican leaders have hammered the commission, with some calling it unconstitutional. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, last year vowed the GOP would reject the maps and go about its own redistricting process. Vos and other Republicans did, however, invite the commission to submit its maps by mid-October for consideration by Republicans, who haven’t specified when they plan to pass their own maps.

Evers has said his commission is aimed at providing greater transparency around the redistricting process and avoid how the GOP drew its maps 10 years ago.

At that time, the maps were created in a tightly controlled room at the Madison law office of Michael Best & Friedrich, and Democrats were not allowed to take part in the process. Republican lawmakers were required to sign secrecy oaths to view drafts.

Documents unearthed through court cases and a temporary Democratic Senate majority in 2012 showed the Republican mapmakers had tweaked the maps to create a durable Republican legislative majority that could withstand a Democratic wave election.

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