Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition by Tony Webster CC BY 2.0 A yard sign in Mellen, Wisconsin reads: “This Time Wisconsin Deserves Fair Maps,” paid for by the Fair Elections Project, FairMapsWI.com. The political sign supports redistricting legislation to reform gerrymandering.
Republican control of the Legislature would likely be reduced under most of the proposed maps submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday, which tossed out the current — heavily gerrymandered — maps late last month.
The Court ruled on Dec. 22 that the state’s legislative maps were unconstitutional because they violated the Wisconsin Constitution’s requirement that districts be contiguous. When the Court tossed the maps, it gave the parties involved in the lawsuit until Friday to submit proposed new maps. The submitted maps will be assessed by two independent consultants hired by the Court. Gov. Tony Evers and the Legislature could also work toward a deal on enacting new maps on their own.
All of the maps submitted still give Republicans an advantage, making it likely the GOP will retain majority control of the body. However, that advantage would likely be significantly lessened under most of the maps. Wisconsin voters are essentially divided 50-50 between both parties, however, because Democratic voters are largely concentrated in urban centers while Republican voters are largely spread out across the rest of the state, Republicans will usually win a larger number of legislative districts.
Democrats and interest groups have celebrated the proposals as a step toward returning the state to fairness, saying that moving the state away from one of the strongest partisan gerrymanders in the country will make legislators more responsive to the voters.
“We’re a purple state, and our maps should reflect that basic fact,” Evers said in a statement. “I’ve always promised I’d fight for fair maps — not maps that favor one political party or another — and that’s a promise I’m proud to keep with the maps I’m submitting today.”
Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to institute their own gerrymander, saying that the Democrats’ proposed maps are partisan because they put current Republican legislators in the same districts, forcing them to run against each other in primaries.
On Friday the Court received seven sets of proposed new maps. The proposals came from Law Forward — the voting rights focused law firm representing the group of voters who challenged the current maps — Republican legislators, Evers, a group of Democratic state Senators, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), intervenors who joined the case on the side of the plaintiffs and a redistricting consultant.
An analysis of the maps by John Johnson, a research fellow at Marquette University, found that all but one of the proposals reduce Republicans’ partisan advantage. Johnson’s analysis uses previous election data to predict the results of the 2022 elections if they had taken place under the new proposed maps.
The one proposal that doesn’t reduce the GOP advantage is the set of maps proposed by Republican lawmakers, which, according to Johnson’s analysis, keeps the Republican advantage in the Assembly at 16.3 points — meaning that in order to win a majority in the Assembly, Democrats would need to win the state by a 16.3 point margin. The Republican lawmakers’ proposed Senate map keeps their advantage in the body at 15.7 points.
Those numbers are exactly the same as the Republican advantage in the maps the Court just threw out. The maps from WILL also retain a large GOP advantage but reduce it to 11.6 points in the Assembly and 13.2 points in the Senate.
None of the proposed maps create a likely Democratic majority in the Assembly; however, the maps from the group of Democratic lawmakers and from the redistricting consultant FastMap would create a Democratic majority in the Senate, according to Johnson’s analysis.
Under the maps proposed by Evers, Republicans would retain a 5.2 point advantage in the Assembly and a 2.2 point advantage in the Senate. The maps from Law Forward would give the GOP a 3.3 point advantage in the Assembly and a 6.2 point advantage in the Senate.
The two consultants will now assess the maps, evaluating them by Feb. 1. The Court will then choose the new maps — unless the Legislature passes new maps and Evers signs them into law before then. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has said it needs the maps by mid-March if they are to take effect in time for the August primary elections.
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