“Who’s on First?” With baseball’s post-season in full swing, one can’t help but recall the ol’ Abbott and Costello routine, not understanding “Who” is the name of the first baseman. In 2007, a guy named Chin-Lung Hu, upon his first career single, let broadcasters finally say, “Hu is on first.”
Enough baseball. Today’s warm-up pitch is about the changes coming to us all in the next few months as the arduous process of redistricting is underway in the Badger state, and it will be some time before we know who the players will be in the 2022 election game.
Every 10 years, incorporating the newest census data, all the Congressional District boundaries, State Senate and Assembly Districts, County Supervisory districts and more are re-drawn to try and even out districts by virtue of their populations. Just where those lines are actually placed is the subject of controversy every ten years as well.
Article IV, Section III of the Wisconsin Constitution lays the responsibility for apportionment with the State Legislature. Since Republicans have majorities in both chambers, they will be drawing the maps, which will bring out cries of “gerrymandering,” a term used to describe using voting data to carve out districts, which will ultimately favor one particular party. Such cries rose up after the Republicans drew the current maps in 2011, in Wisconsin Act 43.
One simple fact that gets lost in all the cries of the current maps is the fact that Republicans attained majorities in both the Senate and Assembly in 2010, based on the “old” maps, over which they had no control. Democrats and progressives were so upset over the 2011 maps they took the maps to court. According to the recap from the Brennan Center For Justice, the Gill v. Whitford case reached the Supreme Court in 2017, where “the Court dismissed the case for lack of standing.” Upon further review with the Wisconsin State Assembly as defendants, “the Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable. On July 2, 2019, the court dismissed the case.” The term “nonjusticiable” essentially means it is not capable of being determined by a court.
The simplest way to describe it is that voter preferences can change. Even if you try to draw partisan lines, there is more opportunity for people to change political preferences than there is for them to change other factors like race, national origin, income or other less malleable characteristics.
Republican majorities in Wisconsin are created for a couple basic reasons, and a review of the 2020 election results from sources such as the Associated Press, Ballotpedia, the Wisconsin Election Commission, and others simply show the numbers. It’s well known that certain areas of the state, like the cities of Milwaukee and Madison, are far more Democratic leaning than any districts are Republican leaning. In the 2020 State Assembly races, 10 Democrats in contested races exceeded 71% of the votes, while no Republicans won contested races by that same margin.
Additionally, Republicans traditionally fielded fewer candidates, essentially conceding those deep-blue spots. In 2012, there were 71 Republicans for 99 seats. In 2020, a record 92 Republican candidates ran, while 87 Democrats were in races. The Republicans achieved 1,665,487 votes—53.8%, while Democrats managed 1,401,108—45.3%—in all Assembly races combined, so a solid Republican majority within individual districts makes more sense. Lots of Democrats appeared to leave off the down-ballot candidates, as President Joe Biden was credited with 1,630,866 votes, meaning 250,000 Democrats didn’t finish their ballots down to the Assembly level. Why? Former President Donald Trump received 1,610,814, largely mirroring the Assembly vote.
What does that mean for 2021 and 2022? Gov. Tony Evers created a “People’s Map Commission,” which drew several sets of maps unveiled in an Oct. 1 press release. If you have an affinity for maps, or curiosity about what potential lines may be drawn, they’re sort of fun to look at and speculate. However, those maps have little chance of actually becoming the boundaries.
Using round numbers, Wisconsin’s 5.9 million residents are being divvied up into eight Congressional Districts of around 740,000 each, and 33 Senate Districts of around 180,000. All those Senate Districts are further divided into three State Assembly Districts each, with populations of around 60,000. Many office holders, along with far more potential candidates, await the unveiling of the new maps and likely challenges to those maps before making their own decisions.
Many Wisconsinites will again be tasked with figuring out their potential options, as undoubtedly, many will change. Regardless of your political persuasion, you’ll want to watch this process closely as it unfolds, and then we can join in a chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and pitch the next election festivities.
Scott Frostman lives in Baraboo, and has roots throughout Wisconsin. Opinions herein are exclusively his own. He believes anyone can make a difference and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.