by Peter Cameron
The Badger Project
Wisconsin is one of the most competitive swing states in the country. Democrats have won every statewide election in the last four years, including U.S. president, governor, U.S. senator and attorney general. Yet Republicans have easily held five of the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House for all of the last decade. And they nearly took a sixth in the 2020 election.
Some experts say gerrymandering is at least partially to blame for that. Others say mostly.
After Republicans won full control of state government in 2010, the hyper-efficient redistricting they conducted in 2011 gave the party a nearly unbreakable hold on a majority of congressional seats, as well as both houses of the legislature. Even when Republicans have lost the majority of the total vote in the state legislature, as they did several times last decade, they still held those majorities of seats.
The gerrymandering process also created eight congressional districts in which incumbents from both sides of the aisle rarely, and usually never, face a serious challenge from the other party. Many experts warn this result of gerrymandering, which creates safe seats for both parties, leads to hyperpartisanship and gridlock in government. Wisconsin, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, usually sees double-digit blowouts in its uncompetitive congressional races.
The Badger Project has put together a side-by-side comparison of how the eight congressional districts changed in the 2011 redistricting process to show how Republicans gave themselves a partisan advantage. Politicians from both parties do this across the country, but in Wisconsin, Republicans have been the ones benefitting from gerrymandering. And let’s not forget, Wisconsin Democrats had full control of state government in 2009, and despite a push from inside and outside the party to enact a nonpartisan redistricting commission, similar to the one in Iowa, they declined to do so.
This year, following the 2020 Census, the district maps must be redrawn again. But without the complete control of state government they had in 2011, Republicans face an almost certain veto of their maps by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a unique wrinkle of Wisconsin politics. This will send the redistricting power to the courts. But will it end up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, or federal court? And what will that court decide? Time will tell.