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Does Tony Evers' 2022 midterm win expose Republican gerrymandering in Wisconsin?

It appears many of the same voters helped elect a Democratic governor and a GOP-dominated legislature. How did this happen?
Redistricting Wisconsin
Posted at 3:54 PM, Nov 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-10 17:52:42-05

Think about this: The same statewide voters who gave Democrat Gov. Tony Evers his second term in office on Tuesday also voted to keep Republicans in control of Wisconsin's State Assembly and Senate.

A number of theories are buzzing around about why that happened. One of those theories, which is gaining steam online via a video from MSNBC, purports that this Evers/Wisconsin Republican dynamic "exposes the distortion of Republican gerrymandering in Wisconsin."

TMJ4 News decided to go deeper into the issue.

How bad is gerrymandering in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin's current districts go back to 2011, when voters elected a number of tea party Republicans to the state's top offices. At the time, the GOP controlled the governor's office, state legislature and the supreme court. And they began working on redrawing the state's legislative maps that, in the 2012 elections, allowed Republicans to win 60 out of 99 seats in the State Assembly and preserve their majority in the State Senate. That's despite receiving less than 50 percent of total votes.

According to Princeton University's gerrymandering project, Wisconsin is indeed home to "some of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in the United States."

Wisconsin's election districts came under focus in the 2018 case Gill v. Whitford when a lower court found a Wisconsin State Assembly plan to be unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. But the U.S. Supreme Court later dismissed the case, arguing federal courts have no jurisdiction to hear partisan gerrymandering claims.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, meanwhile, rejected a petition to challenge redistricting plans in the court. Litigation over redistricting has happened in Wisconsin every decade since 1972, according to the Princeton study.

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How could Wisconsin's legislative districts be reformed?

Wisconsin's gerrymandered could be reformed, the Princeton study found. The bills SB288 and AB303 aimed to form a hybrid commission under the Legislative Reference Bureau and a ReDistricting Advisory Commission. The bills, introduced in June of 2019, would have also created a new list of redistricting criteria and required more transparency.

But the state legislature rejected the bills in a vote in April 2020.

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has been making an effort at reform. In January 2020 Evers signed an executive order creating the "People's Maps Commission." The commission is meant to be a nonstatutory, citizen redistricting commission tasked with drawing maps to submit to the state legislature.

Evers named the five members of the commission in September of 2022 and the commission began a series of hearings focusing on the different districts. The maps must meet the following criteria: free from partisan advantage; avoid diluting minority votes; be compact and contiguous; avoid splitting wards and municipalities; retain population cores; maintain traditional communities of interest; and prevent voter disenfranchisement.

But under state law, the commission is only an advisory committee under the governor's office. Republican state lawmakers have already come out against the commission.

All Wisconsin law requires is that legislative districts be compact and contiguous and preserve political subdivisions. There is no law requiring "congressional districts." State law also does not require public input on proposed legislative districts.

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