Did vot­ing maps limit Democrats’ in­roads into Leg­is­la­ture?

Ger­ry­man­der­ing law­suit points to elec­tion re­sults

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Molly Beck

MADI­SON - Democrats were elected in four statewide races Tues­day — de­feat­ing the state’s most for­mi­da­ble Repub­li­can in­cum­bent — and yet they ap­pear to have picked up just one seat in the Leg­is­la­ture.

The re­sults of the 2018 midterm elec­tions in Wis­con­sin are ev­i­dence of the power of draw­ing leg­isla­tive bound­aries, crit­ics of the maps say: Repub­li­cans ex­panded their ma­jor­ity in the state Se­nate by one seat and kept a mas­sive 63-36 seat ad­van­tage in the Assem­bly, pend­ing a pos­si­ble re­count in one race won by a Demo­crat.

“We’ve now seen four elec­tion cy­cles in which the re­sult of what the vot­ers wanted is not re­flected in the seat al­lo­ca­tion in the Leg­is­la­ture,” said Sachin Ch­heda, di­rec­tor of the Fair Elec­tions Project, which is as­sist­ing with a law­suit seek­ing to over­turn the leg­isla­tive maps. “The vot­ers have gone back and forth elect­ing Repub­li­cans and Democrats but the Leg­is­la­ture hasn’t been mov­ing be­cause the maps are rigged.”

But Assem­bly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) says the maps are drawn to en­sure the Leg­is­la­ture rep­re­sents the ma­jor­ity of the state and not just the pop­u­lous Madi­son and Mil­wau­kee. He said Democrats won on Tues­day in statewide races be­cause the two largest vot­ing blocs are in lib­eral cities of more than 300,000 peo­ple.

“If you took Madi­son and Mil­wau­kee out of the state elec­tion for­mula, we would have a clear ma­jor­ity — we would have all five con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers and we would prob­a­bly have many more seats in the Leg­is­la­ture,” Vos said. “As much as they com­plain about ger­ry­man­der­ing and all things that I think are made up is­sues for their failed agenda, I think we won a fair and square elec­tion. We got more votes than Gov. (Tony) Evers did.”

Evers won by nearly 31,000 votes, and al­most 50,000 more votes were cast in the lib­eral strong­hold of Dane County dur­ing the Nov. 6 elec­tion com-

pared to 2014.

Dur­ing the elec­tion, just one in­cum­bent lost his seat — and that was Demo­crat Sen. Caleb Frost­man of Stur­geon Bay, who had won a spe­cial elec­tion in June. The Assem­bly Democrats picked up just one seat — but it was a ma­jor flip.

Ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary re­sults af­ter Mil­wau­kee County re­ported new vot­ing to­tals Thurs­day, Robyn Vin­ing of Wauwatosa nar­rowly de­feated Matt Adam­cyzk, a Repub­li­can, in a tra­di­tion­ally Repub­li­can district once held by Gov. Scott Walker. Adam­cyzk, the state trea­surer, did not seek re-elec­tion to that of­fice, opt­ing to run for the Assem­bly in­stead.

Tues­day’s elec­tion could be­come part of the suit over those maps, which were drawn af­ter Repub­li­cans took con­trol of state gov­ern­ment in 2011.

Ch­heda said he ex­pects the re­sults of the 2016 and 2018 races will be part of the chal­lenge, which the plain­tiffs are try­ing to re­vive for the 2019 Supreme Court term.

The re­vised case — pend­ing be­fore a panel of three fed­eral judges — will come as Assem­bly lead­ers have hired pri­vate law firm to try to in­ter­vene in the law­suit. The law­suit was filed against state elec­tion of­fi­cials and the judges haven’t ruled whether they will let the Assem­bly join it.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled Democrats su­ing over the maps didn’t have le­gal stand­ing to bring their chal­lenge to Wis­con­sin’s GOP-friendly leg­isla­tive map and sidestepped the big con­sti­tu­tional ques­tions the case raised about par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing.

The opin­ion leaves in place the cur­rent leg­isla­tive lines, a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory for Wis­con­sin Repub­li­cans, but Democrats were able to re­new their law­suit be­fore the three-judge panel.

U.S. District Judge James Peter­son, who leads the panel, has said a trial would likely be held in April. That could get the case back to the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as the fall of 2019.

Ch­heda said the re­sults of 2016 and 2018 races “re­in­force the case that th­ese maps are un­con­sti­tu­tional and serve to dis­en­fran­chise broad swaths of the elec­torate.”

He said re­gard­less of what hap­pens with the law­suit, Evers’ elec­tion means the 2022 maps will be “much fairer” be­cause Repub­li­cans will have to gain ap­proval from Evers or a fed­eral court will draw the bound­aries. States have to draw new maps ev­ery 10 years based on data from the U.S. Cen­sus. The next maps will be drawn in 2021 and be in place for the 2022 elec­tion.

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