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What’s happening with redistricting in Wisconsin? WUWM helps explain

Published January 30, 2024 at 12:48 PM CST
Wisconsin State Capitol
Morry Gash
/
AP
This image taken with a drone shows the Wisconsin State Capitol on Dec. 31, 2020, in Madison, Wis.

Redistricting has become the central focus of politics in Wisconsin.

In Dec. 2023, the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out the legislative electoral maps that cemented Republican majorities in the state's Assembly and Senate. Then in Feb., Gov. Tony Evers signed maps that he proposed, and that the Legislature passed to avoid having the state Supreme Court draw the lines, into law.

It’s been confusing for a lot of us. Through WUWM’s election survey, people have asked questions about redistricting over and over again.

So, here is where you can get the latest updates on the redrawing of the state’s maps as well as find answers to your redistricting questions.

Update

Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects Democrats’ congressional redistricting challenge

Posted March 1, 2024 at 4:09 PM CST

The liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday rejected a Democratic lawsuit that sought to throw out the state’s congressional maps, marking a victory for Republicans who argued against the court taking up the case.

The decision leaves the state's current congressional district boundaries in place for the November election.

The Elias Law Group, which filed the congressional challenge on behalf of Democratic voters, said the court’s decision on the legislative maps opened the door to them revisiting the other maps.

But the court declined to take up the case. It did not give a reason in the unsigned order.

Justice Janet Protasiewicz did not participate. There was a request for her to recuse, but Protasiewicz said she didn't participate because she wasn't on the court when the case was originally brought.

Two of the court's conservative members, Chief Justice Annette Ziegler and Justice Rebecca Bradley, wrote that although the case was rightfully rejected, “it likely won’t be long until the new majority flexes its political power again to advance a partisan agenda despite the damage inflicted on the independence and integrity of the court.”

The court faced a tight deadline to act in time for the November election. Wisconsin’s elections commission has said district boundaries must be set by mid-March to meet deadlines for elections officials and candidates. Candidates can start circulating nomination papers on April 15 for the Aug. 13 primary.

Six of the state’s eight congressional seats are held by Republicans. In 2010, the year before Republicans redrew the maps, Democrats held five seats compared with three for Republicans.

Only two of the state’s current congressional districts are seen as competitive. Western Wisconsin’s 3rd District is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who won an open seat in 2022 after longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind retired. And southeastern Wisconsin’s 1st District, held by Republican Rep. Bryan Steil since 2019, was made more competitive under the latest maps but still favors Republicans.

Both seats have been targeted by national Democrats.

The current congressional maps in Wisconsin were drawn by Evers and approved by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2022 declined to block them from taking effect.

Explainer

New legislative maps set the stage for a new Wisconsin

Posted February 22, 2024 at 1:40 PM CST
Lake Effect's Joy Powers talks with John Johnson.

John Johnson, a research fellow at Marquette Law School's Lubar Center, helps clarify some redistricting confusion and legal arguments.

Republican legislators and governor come to an agreement

For the second time in the state’s history, Wisconsin Republicans and Democrats have come together to pass legislative maps. These maps will be in place for the November election, in which every member of the Wisconsin Assembly will be up for reelection.

But although Gov. Tony Evers was able to come to an agreement with Republicans in the Legislature, every Democrat voted against them. Johnson says he was surprised by this, but says there could have been a procedural motivation for their votes.

“Maybe they were just trying to preserve Gov. Evers’ veto power because the Republican majority is so large right now that even a few defections from Democrats would create a supermajority that could override veto,” he says.

Control of the Legislature

Democrats can expect to pick up a lot of seats in the Assembly and some in the Senate this fall, but overall these maps don’t generally favor one party over the other, according to Johnson.

“The most likely outcome under these maps is whichever party wins a majority of the votes for state legislative races will actually win a majority of the seats, and that’s true for Democrats and Republicans,” he explains.

While Democrats may be able to flip the Assembly, Evers' maps will have a slight benefit for Republicans in the Senate this fall.

“[Evers’] map really does take the possibility of Democrats flipping the state Senate in November of this year off the table,” says Johnson. Only half the seats in the Wisconsin Senate are up for reelection this year and Evers’ maps virtually guarantees Republicans will retain control of the Senate.

Legal challenges

Johnson notes that there currently aren’t any legal challenges to these maps, and Republican leaders have indicated they don’t intend to raise any challenges.

“These maps are now the law of the land, you know, they’ve been passed by the Legislature, signed by the governor, they’re on the books — they are the law,” says Johnson.

Explore the new maps

“Most of the Assembly seats in the City of Milwaukee don’t change much or at all,” says Johnson. “But there is a pretty big change on the western edge of the city and those western suburbs in Milwaukee County reaching over into Brookfield.”

There are a number of districts in the Milwaukee area that have become more competitive, as this interactive map from WisPolitics explores.

UPDATE

Wisconsin’s Democratic governor signs his new legislative maps into law after Republicans pass them

Posted February 19, 2024 at 9:31 AM CST

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed new legislative district maps into law on Monday that he proposed and that the Republicans who control the Legislature passed to avoid having the liberal-controlled state Supreme Court draw the lines.

Democrats hailed the signing as a major political victory in the swing state where the Legislature has been firmly under Republican control for more than a decade, even as Democrats have won 14 of the past 17 statewide elections.

“When I promised I wanted fair maps — not maps that are better for one party or another, including my own — I damn well meant it,” Evers said prior to signing the maps into law at the state Capitol. "Wisconsin is not a red state or a blue state — we're a purple state, and I believe our maps should reflect that basic fact.

Democrats are almost certain to gain seats in the state Assembly and state Senate under the new maps, which be in place for the November election. Republicans have been operating since 2011 under maps they drew that were recognized as among the most gerrymandered in the country.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to overturn the Republican-drawn maps. But it wasn’t until control of the state Supreme Court flipped in August after the election of liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz that Democrats found a winning formula.

They filed a lawsuit the day after Protasiewicz joined the court. Republicans argued that Protasiewicz shouldn't hear the lawsuit because she said during her campaign that the GOP-drawn maps were “rigged” and “unfair.” But she did not recuse herself.

Protasiewicz ended up providing the deciding fourth vote in a December ruling that declared the current maps to be unconstitutional because not all of the districts were contiguous, meaning some areas were geographically disconnected from the rest of the district. The court said it would draw the lines if the Legislature couldn’t pass maps that Evers would sign.

The court accepted maps from the governor, Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as well as three other parties to the redistricting lawsuit. Consultants hired by the court determined that maps submitted by the Legislature and a conservative law firm were “partisan gerrymanders,” leaving the court with four Democratic-drawn maps to choose from.

Facing a mid-March deadline from the state elections commission for new maps to be in place, the Legislature on Tuesday passed the Evers maps. Republicans described having no better option, while skeptical Democrats voted against the governor’s plans, saying they feared being tricked by Republicans.

“Wisconsin will no longer be among the most gerrymandered states in the nation,” said Assembly Democratic Leader Greta Neubauer in a statement Monday. Neubauer, who voted against the maps, added that "this is the beginning of a new era in Wisconsin — where the will of the people will once again be the law of the land.”

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said just before the bill was passed that “it pains me to say it, but Gov. Evers gets a huge win today,” and that under the new maps, “the Legislature will be up for grabs.”

Other Republicans were even more stark.

“Republicans were not stuck between a rock and hard place,” Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard said in a statement. “It was a matter of choosing to be stabbed, shot, poisoned or led to the guillotine. We chose to be stabbed, so we can live to fight another day.”

Democrats also raised concerns that under the bill, the maps wouldn't take effect immediately. That raises a legal question for any special or recall elections that take place before November, given that the state Supreme Court already ruled that the old maps are unconstitutional.

Evers said Monday that “these maps will take effect immediately after publication and will be in place for the fall elections.” He also asked the state Supreme Court to clarify that the maps will be in effect for any special elections prior to the November election.

Under the new maps, there would be 15 incumbents in the Assembly who would be forced to run against another incumbent and six such pairings in the Senate. Only one of the Assembly pairings would pit one Democratic incumbent against another one. In the Senate, the only Democratic pairing includes an incumbent who has already decided not to run this fall.

Litigation continues in more than a dozen states over U.S. House and state legislative districts that were enacted after the 2020 census.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court also has been asked by Democrats to take up a challenge to the state’s congressional district lines. The lawsuit argues the court’s decision to order new state legislative maps opens the door to challenging the congressional map. Republicans hold six of the state’s eight congressional seats.

Update

Wisconsin Legislature passes Gov. Evers' legislative maps

Posted February 13, 2024 at 4:00 PM CST

Wisconsin's Republican-controlled Legislature on Tuesday passed legislative maps that were proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — a move designed to prevent the liberal-controlled state Supreme Court from implementing maps that might be even worse for Republicans.

Republicans conceded defeat, while Democrats said they were afraid of being tricked.

“It pains me to say it, but Gov. Evers gets a huge win today,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said, adding that under the new maps, “the Legislature will be up for grabs.”

The Assembly and Senate passed the bill in quick succession Tuesday, sending it to Evers. Last week, he promised to sign his maps into law if the Legislature passed them with no changes. He did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Democrats said that the Wisconsin Supreme Court should be allowed to implement the maps. Republicans said that voting for Evers' maps, rather than waiting for the state Supreme Court to install maps that might be even better for Democrats, was their last best remaining option.

“Republicans were not stuck between a rock and hard place,” Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard said in a statement. “It was a matter of choosing to be stabbed, shot, poisoned or led to the guillotine. We chose to be stabbed, so we can live to fight another day.”

Vos said at a news conference before the vote that passing the maps would be the end of costly litigation.

“I have said from the very beginning that I think we can win under the maps presented because we have better candidates, a better message and the ability to have hard-working people explain across the state why having Republicans in charge of the Legislature is best for Wisconsin," Vos said.

But Democrats who voted against adopting Evers' maps pointed to language in the bill that would not put the new maps into effect until the November general election, instead of immediately.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wisconsin’s current maps are unconstitutional," Democratic Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein said in a statement. “Republicans hold an illegitimate majority and should not influence the state’s new maps. Their motives today, like their actions of the past decade, are ill-intentioned and self-serving.”

Under the bill, the new maps wouldn't be in effect for any special or recall elections before the November election. That means if the effort to force a recall election of Vos succeeds, the vote would take place under the current map and not the new one.

That raised concerns among Democrats.

“We don’t have clarity on that," Democratic Sen. Mark Spreitzer said. "Somebody is going to have to go to court on that.”

The Senate passed it 18-14, with one Democrat joining 17 Republicans in favor and five Republicans joining nine Democrats against. The Assembly passed it 63-33, with all Democrats except one voting against it.

Analyses of the Evers maps show they would likely greatly reduce Republican majorities in the Legislature, which stand at 64-35 in the Assembly and 22-10 in the Senate.

Under the Evers maps, there would be 15 incumbents in the Assembly who would be forced to run against another incumbent and six such pairings in the Senate. Only one of the Assembly pairings would pit one Democratic incumbent against another one. In the Senate, the only Democratic pairing includes an incumbent who has already decided not to run this fall.

___

Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.

Explainer

Court-drawn maps vs. legislative-drawn maps

Posted February 13, 2024 at 3:45 PM CST
Lake Effect's Joy Powers talks with John Johnson.

John Johnson, a research fellow at Marquette Law School's Lubar Center, helps clarify some redistricting confusion and legal arguments.

Gerrymandered ≠ eliminated

There’s a small section at the end of the Supreme Court consultants’ report that says the Legislature’s and WILL’s plans are "partisan gerrymanders." Johnson has seen some people falsely claim those two plans are now eliminated.

"That's a misunderstanding of how this process works. The court can do whatever the court wants. The consultants’ report has no sort of legal authority; it's simply a tool for them to use as they assess these plans and the statistical analysis that the consultants do is not in question. It's done well. ... I think the justices will be able to use the statistical analysis the consultants performed to reach their own conclusions about which of these maps they like best,” he says.

Legal arguments: Court-drawn vs. legislative-drawn maps

Johnson says the future legislative maps would have firmer foundations if they were passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in the constitutionally prescribed manner.

“I think [a Legislative-drawn map] would be less likely to be challenged under state law and the state court system, and probably more or less equally likely to be challenged under federal Civil Rights law.”

For example, say the Wisconsin Supreme Court were to have a narrow conservative majority in the future, Johnson says maps passed through the Legislature, rather than instituted by a previous court, would be harder to overturn.

Some people have argued that a map passed by the Legislature would be more easily reviewable by the federal courts; however, Johnson says this doesn’t make sense. “In 2019, the majority of the current justices sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts could not consider partisan gerrymandering claims,” he says.

“As far as the other avenue by which federal courts may consider redistricting cases — the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has demonstrated that it's perfectly willing to intervene in court-drawn maps and Legislative-drawn maps alike.”

Although, he says, the proposed maps “leave the districts, where that is relevant, unchanged from the existing map used in the last election, which the [U.S.] Supreme Court essentially forced into use by invalidating the Evers’ least change map in early 2022. So [intervention] seems unlikely.”

The other long-shot discussion is the U.S. Supreme Court intervening on due process grounds regarding Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s decision not to recuse herself. Johnson says people he’s talked to think that’s an unlikely issue for the court to take on.

Explainer

Let's unpack the redistricting report submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court

Posted February 7, 2024 at 1:58 PM CST
Lake Effect's Joy Powers talks with John Johnson.

In our weekly conversation with Marquette research fellow John Johnson, he shares takeaways from the redistricting consultants’ report shared with the Wisconsin Supreme Court last Friday as well as reaction and what lies ahead.

Breaking down the consultants’ report

There were no huge surprises in the report, Johnson says. “They conclude that most of these plans are basically the same when it comes to population equality, similar degrees of compactness, they all comply with the contiguity and civil rights law required.”

However, the big difference between the plans is the partisan impact.

While there are different ways to measure that, at the top of the consultants’ list was what they call ‘majoritarian concordance’ — that looks at how likely a map gives a legislative majority to the party that receives an electoral majority.

“They looked at a bunch of statewide elections from 2016 through 2022 and see how successful each of the maps for the Assembly and the Senate were at converting either party’s electoral majority into a legislative majority. And what they find is that the plan submitted by the Legislature and by WILL always convert Republican majorities into a Republican majority in the Legislature, and they almost never translate a Democratic statewide electoral majority into a majority of legislative seats. The one exception being Tammy Baldwin's 11 point 2018 Senate victory.”

He continues, “The other four plans, the ones submitted by Democrats or Democratic-aligned groups, create maps that usually translate a majority of support for either party into a majority of the Legislature for that party.”

And so for that reason, the consultants say the plans submitted by the Legislative Republicans and WILL are gerrymandered along partisan lines and the other four maps will create a pretty equal playing field.

“That being said, they conclude that, probably, there's a small remaining benefit to Republicans. In a truly 50/50 election, most of the time, I think, we would expect Republicans to win a narrow majority in a dead even statewide scenario. But these maps come pretty close to neutrality,” Johnson says.

The consultants did leave open the possibility that they could create a new map, if the Supreme Court requests it.

“Their point is that they could make some small tweaks that probably actually wouldn't change the partisan bottom line very much, but might achieve some of these other good government ends. And so they sort of encourage the court to consider enlisting their help to do that,” Johnson says.

Reaction to report

The people behind the Democratic-leaning proposals have been very pleased with the consultants’ report, meanwhile Republicans, Johnson says, have been irate.

“It is true that if you simply draw maps in Wisconsin using the criteria that are explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, most of the maps that you would draw ... would have somewhat of a Republican advantage built into them,” he says.

It is not an accident, Johnson says, that the four democratic-aligned maps are much better for Democrats than a map drawn without considering partisan impact at all would have been.

“I think to some Republicans that seems unfair for the court to explicitly consider the partisan impact, even if the goal is to create what Democrats would call a level playing field.”

What comes next

As the Wisconsin Election Commission’s March 15 deadline looms, the Legislature still has the legal authority to pass a new map, if they can get the governor to sign it. The Legislature had tried to pass a modified version of Gov. Evers’ map, but he vetoed that.

“If I was a Republican and I had to pick from the four Democratic-aligned plans that are before the Supreme Court, I would choose Gov. Evers’ plan. It is a little bit better for Republicans. ... I believe it pairs fewer Republicans together in the same district, and it probably gives them the most advantage of any of those plans in a statewide election. It's not a huge difference, but it's there,” Johnson says.

He says it is possible that the Legislature could try passing Evers’ map as is and see if the governor would sign it. “The incentive for the governor would be that a map passed by the Legislature and signed into law would be much harder for any court, state or federal, to review in the future.”

FAQ

Answers to your redistricting questions

Updated February 6, 2024 at 10:14 AM CST
Posted February 2, 2024 at 11:50 AM CST

WUWM has been inviting people in the Milwaukee area to fill out our election survey to help inform our 2024 elections coverage, and WUWM has received a bunch of questions about redistricting!

Your feedback will help inform our election coverage.

So, here are answers — thanks to John Johnson, a research fellow at Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center — to some of your questions.

Johnson’s answers have been edited for length and clarity, and updates have been added.

Do we have a clear timeline for when the new legislative maps will be released?

On Friday, Feb. 2, the consultants — Jonathan Cervas of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Bernard Grofman of the University of California, Irvine — the state Supreme Court hired released their report.

The report said the plans submitted by the Republican Legislature and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty are partisan gerrymanders. And, only the court can make the determination of whether any of the four plans from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, Democratic lawmakers and others are constitutional, the consultants wrote.

It is now up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide which maps to enact.

However, the Legislature still has the legal authority to pass a new map, if they can get the governor to sign it.

The deadline everyone keeps coming back to is March 15 — when the Wisconsin Election Commission says they need to be absolutely sure what the boundaries will be so that they can administer the fall partisan primary appropriately.

What happens if the March 15 deadline is missed?

It would be very bad. The first thing people running for state Legislature have to do is collect signatures from constituents and run in the primary, and they wouldn't be able to do that because they wouldn't know who their constituents are or which district they are in.

The decision handed down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in December prohibits the use of the current maps in any future election. And that matters not just for the upcoming general election, but also for any special elections that might occur.They really need these new districts soon. I think the answer is they can't miss the deadline.

Does redistricting impact statewide elections? Which elections will be affected by these new maps?

There will be no special elections held, so everyone will still vote on the regularly scheduled period. The court has decided that only the even numbered state Senate districts will be up in 2024 and all of the Assembly districts.

If you find yourself drawn into a new district under the new maps, then you might be voting for different candidates than you would have been otherwise. But it'll be the same seats up for election.

Will having different legislative maps affect the outcome of or the turnout for the presidential election or the U.S. Senate election?

I tend to be skeptical of that. There was a survey from 2018 that found that fewer than 20% of people in the country could name their state representative. That's just not a very salient office for most people, but almost everyone has an opinion about Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

People’s attitudes towards the top of the ticket and their desire to vote for those races are going to drive turnout and election results more than the down ballot. Enthusiasm will drive participation overall.

Why doesn't a nonpartisan committee or software draw Wisconsin’s electoral maps?

There are many models of how you might draw maps across the 50 states. I think you can boil them down into one of three categories:

  • The Legislature has the primary role in drawing the maps, and the governor is required to sign it. That’s how it works in Wisconsin and many other states. (There are few states where the governor isn't involved, and the maps are passed by joint resolution.)  
  • Seven states have politician commissions, where elected officials serve on that and draw the maps. Usually these are bipartisan commissions, rather than nonpartisan. In Missouri, for example, they create commissions to draw the state legislative maps that are equally Democratic and Republican, and 70% of those members are required to agree. So they enforce that a bipartisan map be drawn, but you can imagine — especially when it comes to where incumbents live, there's  bipartisan desires around gerrymandering that Democrats and Republicans can come together on. 
  • Nine states have created independent redistricting commissions that usually explicitly ban politicians from serving on those commissions. They'll define politician in different ways, but not people who hold office, not people who are officers for a party, sometimes not the spouses of people who hold office. There are party officers. 

What sets Wisconsin apart from the states with an independent redistricting commission is that those states have an initiative ballot procedure where the citizens of a state can get a constitutional amendment, or some other kind of referendum, on the ballot without the Legislature putting it there.

Legislatures do not want independent commissions that take the power to draw maps away from them — that’s true of Democrats and Republicans alike.

What would it take to get the ability to pass a binding referendum in Wisconsin?

The Legislature can send things to referendum in Wisconsin, so they would have to agree to put such a proposal on the ballot.

This has been such a difficult redistricting cycle. If you look at the history of redistricting cycles in Wisconsin, they've rarely involved the parties coming together to reach a compromise. Maybe there's a chance that if there's a new Legislature elected under more competitive maps, there would be more of an appetite for creating some kind of independent institution in the state that had formal legal authority to resolve what has been a consistent gridlock ever since the 1960s in Wisconsin.

Why should we care about redistricting? Why are more fair maps important to democracy?

People who feel that one party is better than the other have varying feelings about this, because if you believe that Republicans are better, then you're less worried about fair maps in Wisconsin. I have friends in Illinois who are Democrats who are not particularly worried about having fair maps in that state because they enjoy having permanent Democratic majorities.

But if you support the opposite party, you feel otherwise. Democrats in Wisconsin and my experience living in Illinois was that Republicans there were very enthusiastic about the idea of nonpartisan redistricting.

Other people really care about the idea of competitiveness. They think that you don't receive very good representation unless you have politicians who are worried about losing a general election rather than a primary. When a primary is the only competitive election that happens, it's lowers turnout and it tends to be more extreme turnout, so the political fringes have more influence in those kinds of situations.

This post will be updated as we continue to receive questions and report out answers.

Update

Wisconsin redistricting experts tell Supreme Court Republican map proposals are gerrymanders

Posted February 1, 2024 at 9:03 PM CST

Consultants hired by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to examine maps redrawing state legislative districts said Thursday that plans submitted by the Republican Legislature and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty are partisan gerrymanders, but they stopped short of declaring the other four maps constitutional.

The Legislature’s map was virtually unchanged from what the current boundaries are.

The consultants, Jonathan Cervas of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Bernard Grofman of the University of California, Irvine, rejected Republican claims that their majorities in the Legislature are due to Democratic support being concentrated in cities, while the GOP had broader support in a larger geographic area.

“That kind of insulation from the forces of electoral change is the hallmark of a gerrymander,” they wrote. “To put it simply, geography is not destiny.”

Only the court can make the determination of whether any of the four plans from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, Democratic lawmakers and others are constitutional, they wrote.

Any of those maps could be improved based on criteria the court identified as being important, including political neutrality, compactness, contiguity and preserving communities of interest, the consultants wrote.

And, Cervas and Grofman wrote that the four maps were similar on most criteria and from a “social science point of view,” are “nearly indistinguishable.”

They declined to draw their own maps, but said they could do so quickly if the court instructed them to.

It ultimately will be up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, with a 4-3 liberal majority, to decide which maps to enact. The state elections commission has said that must be done by March 15 to meet deadlines for candidates running in the fall.

Explainer

New legislative maps: How did we get to this point?

Posted January 30, 2024 at 3:59 PM CST
Lake Effect's Joy Powers talks with Marquette researcher John Johnson.

John Johnson, a research fellow at Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center, explains the Wisconsin Supreme Court legislative maps ruling and goes over the legislative maps that have been submitted to the court.

Wisconsin Supreme Court rules legislative maps unconstitutional

Late in 2023, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Wisconsin’s current legislative maps are unconstitutional because they contain noncontiguous pieces — meaning parts of some of the districts don't touch the rest of the district, Johnson explains. And for that reason, the court prohibited their use in any future elections.

“And the court said that if they choose a remedial map — if the legislature and governor failed to agree on a new map and the court is forced to choose — they will consider additional fairness criteria when they choose a map beyond simply contiguity.”

As for what’s all included in that additional “fairness criteria,” Johnson says maps should have:

  • Equal populations
  • Be compact
  • Follow municipal, county and ward lines
  • Comply with federal civil rights requirements
  • Account for partisan impact

Johnson says what’s most controversial is the partisan fairness criteria. “[The court is] looking for a map that comes close to giving majority control of the legislature to the party that gets the most votes in legislative races.”

Proposed maps submitted to the court

The Supreme Court is considering maps submitted by:

  • Legislative Republicans 
  • WILL (Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty), a conservative law firm  
  • Gov. Tony Evers 
  • Law Forward, a progressive firm  
  • Senate Democrats 
  • Wright Petitioners, a group who is who are working with some prominent, national, Democratic-aligned law firms 

The court, Johnson explains, is also employing two consultants who could tweak these maps or even draw their own.
When comparing these new, proposed maps to the current legislative maps, Johnson says:

  • The Legislative Republican map “is essentially the old map, just with the contiguity problems cleaned up. But for political purposes, it's essentially the same.” 
  • The WILL map “is quite a lot different, ... in terms of the lines are drawn much differently and it has a more modest but still quite noticeable Republican tilt. Republicans would probably hold control of the Legislature under most scenarios under that map.” 
  • The four additional plans submitted by Democrats and progressive groups “all create a map that would be close to 50-50 that if Democrats won a majority of the vote, they would be pretty likely to win at least 50 seats in the Assembly.” 

Republican reaction to maps

Johnson says what’s upsetting Republicans in the state Legislature is that in many of these proposed maps, Republicans lose their partisan edge and some incumbents are drawn into the same district. The only map that doesn’t not have an incumbent in the same district as another incumbent is the Legislative Republican map.

Story

Could an algorithm be the solution to Wisconsin's gerrymandering problem?

Posted January 30, 2024 at 3:29 PM CST

Seven legislative maps were submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but only six will be considered.

The map not being considered was drawn by Matt Petering, an associate professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering at UW-Milwaukee and owner of District Solutions — a company based around his map-making algorithm.

Petering believes his algorithm is the best way to get fair maps in Wisconsin.

Learn more

Update

Evers vetoes Republican legislative maps

Posted January 30, 2024 at 3:04 PM CST
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks before President Joe Biden at the Earth Rider Brewery, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Superior, Wis.
Alex Brandon
/
AP
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks before President Joe Biden at the Earth Rider Brewery, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Superior, Wis.

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday vetoed a redistricting proposal that the Republican-controlled Legislature passed last week in a last-ditch effort to avert the drawing of legislative boundaries by the state Supreme Court.

The liberal-controlled court said it would draw new maps unless the Legislature and Evers agreed to ones first. They could not agree.

The Republican map largely mirrored maps Evers had proposed, but with changes that would reduce the number of GOP incumbents in the state Senate and Assembly who would have to face one another in November.

Evers said he vetoed the maps because they are “more of the same.”

“Republicans passed maps to help make sure Republican-gerrymandered incumbents get to keep their seats,” he said in a statement. “Folks, that’s just more gerrymandering.”

Republicans don’t have enough votes in the Legislature to override the veto.

The Legislature raced to pass maps ahead of Thursday’s deadline for consultants hired by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to submit their recommendations for new boundary lines. They are reviewing six maps submitted separately by Evers, Republicans, Democrats and others. They could recommend one of those maps or their own. It will then be up to the liberal-controlled court to order the maps.

Update

Republicans ask Protasiewicz to recuse herself from congressional redistricting case

Posted January 30, 2024 at 3:03 PM CST

Five of Wisconsin’s Republican members of Congress, along with the Republican-controlled Legislature, asked the newest liberal member of the state Supreme Court not to hear a lawsuit that seeks to redraw congressional district maps ahead of the November election.

National Democrats last week asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up a challenge to the state’s congressional districts, but the court has yet to decide whether to take the case.

That lawsuit argues that decision last month ordering new state legislative maps opens the door to the latest challenge focused on congressional lines.

Republicans asked in that legislative-district case for Justice Janet Protasiewicz to recuse herself, based on comments she made during her campaign calling the maps “rigged” and “unfair.” She refused to step aside and was part of the 4-3 majority in December that ordered new maps.

Now Republicans are making similar arguments in calling for her to not hear the congressional redistricting challenge. In a motion filed Monday, they argued that her comments critical of the Republican maps require her to step aside in order to avoid a due process violation of the U.S. Constitution. They also cite the nearly $10 million her campaign received from the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

“A justice cannot decide a case she has prejudged or when her participation otherwise creates a serious risk of actual bias," Republicans argued in the motion. “Justice Protasiewicz’s public campaign statements establish a constitutionally intolerable risk that she has prejudged the merits of this case.”

Protasiewicz rejected similar arguments in the state legislative map redistricting case, saying in October that the law did not require her to step down from that case.

“Recusal decisions are controlled by the law,” Protasiewicz wrote then. “They are not a matter of personal preference. If precedent requires it, I must recuse. But if precedent does not warrant recusal, my oath binds me to participate.”

Those seeking her recusal in the congressional redistricting case are the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature and Republican U.S. Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, Bryan Steil and Tom Tiffany.

The only Republican not involved in the lawsuit is U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who represents western Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District. His is one of only two congressional districts in Wisconsin seen as competitive.

The current congressional maps in Wisconsin were drawn by Evers and approved by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2022 declined to block them from taking effect.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is under an extremely tight deadline to consider the challenge. State elections officials have said that new maps must be in place by March 15 in order for candidates and elections officials to adequately prepare for the Aug. 13 primary. Candidates can start circulating nomination papers on April 15.

The lawsuit argues that there is time for the court to accept map submissions and select one to be in place for the November election.