Just how partisan are the GOP ‘nonpartisan’ maps?

Facts behind the spin on new voting maps and gerrymandering

By: - October 21, 2021 2:46 pm
Gerrymander redistricting symbol from original gerrymandered seat

The original gerrymander by Kenny Cole via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Republican legislative leaders unveiled their proposed redistricting maps Wednesday, as did the People’s Maps Commission, which provided updated versions of draft maps it had previously released.

Both the GOP and the commission — formed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers but made up of a diverse group of community members who drew on extensive public input — say their maps are fair and nonpartisan.

Democrats jumped on Republicans’ maps, put forward in a redistricting bill, as being overtly partisan and even more gerrymandered than the maps that have been in place for the last decade. Over the past 10 years, Republicans in the Assembly, who received less than half of the total votes statewide, secured around two-thirds of the districts thanks to the maps they drew after the last census.

Even though President Joe Biden carried Wisconsin in 2020 and Democrats won all six statewide races in 2018, the new maps, had they been in effect for the last election, would have given more than 60% of legislative seats to Republicans — a number two seats higher than the current maps. And six of eight congressional districts would lean Republican under the Legislature’s plan, rather than the current five. (Rep. Ron Kind’s western district becomes more Republican-leaning in the plan by removing Stevens Point.) Under the new maps, 62 of the Assembly’s 99 seats have a higher concentration of Republicans than the state as a whole.

Yet Assembly Speaker Robin Vos described the maps as “nonpartisan.”

“The people of Wisconsin want transparency, they want checks and balances, and they want cooperation in how their districts are drawn,” Vos said in a statement. “The Legislature took into account plans submitted from citizens all over the state and considered submissions from the governor’s People’s Maps Commission, so we are confident these maps are fair for all Wisconsinites.”

“These new maps are nothing more than gerrymandering 2.0,” reacted Assembly Democratic leader Gordon Hintz.

“The public has had an unprecedented level of input and influence over the map-drawing efforts. We encouraged Wisconsinites to play an active role in the process, and their participation has fundamentally shaped the way the maps were drawn,” said Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. “During the upcoming public hearing and committee process, we will work to ensure the final maps meet every legal and constitutional redistricting requirement.”

...we are confident these maps are fair for all Wisconsinites.

– Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

“As expected, their maps would dramatically gerrymander Wisconsin and lock in disproportionate GOP majorities in the state legislature and our congressional delegation for the next decade,” said Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit).

Those are the partisan reactions; here is the straight numerical analysis of the GOP maps:

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project analyzes maps all around the country. It gave the GOP maps an overall “F” grade for Congressional, Senate and Assembly maps. The analysis rates maps on three top lines: partisan fairness, competitiveness and geographic features. All three maps got an overall F ranking. And all three received Fs on partisan fairness.

On competitiveness, the congressional maps had another F grade, stating “very uncompetitive relative to other maps that could have been drawn.” And on geographic features, the maps got a C with the comment, “Compact districts, typical number of county splits.”

The state Senate maps did better on competitiveness, getting a C. And the Assembly maps got a C for competitiveness and an F for geography, saying the maps were “not compact” and counties were split more than is typical.

RepresentUS joined the Princeton Gerrymandering Project in its analysis based on “a unique algorithm that generates 1 million districting plans for each state. The tool compares proposed maps against the full range of possibilities — both good and bad — and issues grades based on criteria including partisan fairness, competitiveness, and geographic features.”

This group also put out a threat map before the maps were released, categorizing Wisconsin as being at “extreme risk of partisan gerrymandering,” because politicians have “complete control” over the mapping process. It explained its extreme threat ranking for Wisconsin — the worst ranking it can give — as “states with extreme overall risk give politicians complete control over an often-secretive, poorly-protected redistricting process.”

Not surprised to see the gerrymandered Wisconsin legislature produce another extreme gerrymander as their proposal for the next decade.

– Ruth Greenwood, Harvard Law's Election Law Center

“When partisan lawmakers are in charge of the redistricting process, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll end up with partisan gerrymandering. These maps proposed by Wisconsin Republicans continue a pattern we’re seeing in red and blue states across the country,” said RepresentUs Senior Campaign Director Joe Kabourek. “By overwhelming margins, Wisconsin voters oppose gerrymandering and they want fair districts that don’t favor one party over the other. Legislators should listen to their constituents and go back to the drawing board.”

The Report Card has also given out failing “F” grades to proposed or approved congressional maps in Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project also graded the maps released by the People’s Maps Commission, giving grades ranging from A to C.

Another source of unbiased maps and analysis is PlanScore, a tool from the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization “working to advance democracy through law.” The center pointed out that in Wisconsin, where President Joe Biden won the state by more than 20,000 votes, he won in just  37 Assembly districts out of 99.  On the new GOP proposed maps, he would have only won in 35.


Ruth Greenwood, director of Harvard Law School’s Election Law Clinic and a self-declared “map enthusiast” and “political junkie” used the PlanScore and said that the Legislature’s maps “would almost certainly ensure a GOP majority in the Legislature for another decade.” Greenwood ran the GOP-drawn maps through PlanScore — a program that predicts precinct-level votes for districts based on past election results and U.S. Census data — and labeled the maps as unfair.

PlanScore uses four metrics, and the Wisconsin GOP’s legislative maps in all four categories were labeled as having “a Republican skew.”

“Not surprised to see the gerrymandered Wisconsin legislature produce another extreme gerrymander as their proposal for the next decade,” Greenwood tweeted. “Doesn’t matter which metric you use, it’s more skewed than around 90% of historical plans.”

The analysis shows that measuring for bias, Republicans would win 14.1% extra seats in a hypothetical, perfectly tied election in the Assembly. She called the Congressional map “a doozy too” with a 16.1% efficiency gap (measured by packing opponents into one district and cracking supporters among the rest) that would determine winners for the next decade.

As Common Cause Wisconsin’s Jay Heck described it, “62 of the 99 Assembly Districts in their plan are more Republican than the state, as a whole. It increases from five to six, the number of Wisconsin congressional seats controlled by Republicans in the state’s eight seat delegation.

“Further, the GOP maps continue the insidious practice of packing more Democrats into fewer districts and dividing numerous counties and municipalities among Assembly districts for the sole purpose of providing partisan advantage to Republican candidates in elections,” Heck continued. “According to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, the Republican Assembly map splits 53 counties and 48 municipalities, while the GOP state Senate map splits 42 counties and 28 municipalities. That hardly constitutes keeping communities of interest intact.”

And the number magicians at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com updated their Wisconsin statistics in “What redistricting looks like in every state” on Thursday to account for the GOP leaders’ plans. The site’s analysis focused on the congressional map, but it spelled out the tough road ahead for Democrats — even under the maps released Wednesday by the People’s Maps Commission appointed by Evers.

“Wisconsin’s current congressional map heavily favors Republicans, so it is unsurprising that the three proposed commission maps are slightly more favorable to Democrats than the current one. Depending on the map you look at, Democrats could gain a seat or at least become more competitive in a Republican-leaning seat.

“There are no versions of the map that put Democrats on an equal footing to Republicans in purple Wisconsin, and that is in large part thanks to geography. Democrats are highly concentrated in Dane and Milwaukee counties, while Republicans aren’t as highly concentrated in any one part of the rest of the state. It simply would be very difficult to make Democrats competitive in an equal number of seats to Republicans without drawing funkier lines and breaking up municipalities, which the commission was directed not to do.”


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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin was the Wisconsin Examiner's founding Deputy Editor, serving from its launch July 1, 2019, until Feb. 1, 2022. She is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications before returning to journalism at the Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.