Wisconsin Republicans’ large majorities expected to shrink under new legislative maps

Most of the newly ordered maps redrawing Wisconsin’s political boundaries for the state Legislature would keep Republicans in majority control, but their dominance would be reduced, according to an independent analysis of the plans.

Seven sets of new state Senate and Assembly maps were submitted on Friday, the deadline given by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to propose new maps after it ruled three weeks ago that the current ones drawn by Republicans were unconstitutional.

The ruling stands to shake up battleground Wisconsin’s political landscape in a presidential election year.

Wisconsin is a purple state, with four of the past six presidential elections decided by less than a percentage point. But Democrats have made gains in recent years, winning the governor’s office in 2018 and again in 2022 and taking over majority control of the state Supreme Court, setting the stage for the redistricting ruling.

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Under legislative maps first enacted by Republicans in 2011, and then again in 2022 with few changes, the GOP has increased its stranglehold over the Legislature, largely blocking major policy initiatives of Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic lawmakers the past five years.

Republicans currently hold a 22-11 supermajority in the Senate and a near supermajority of 64-35 in the Assembly. If they can get a supermajority in both chambers, they would be override Evers’ vetoes. He has already issued more vetoes than any governor in Wisconsin history.

The Supreme Court, in ordering new maps, said the current legislative boundary lines were not contiguous, resulting in districts that with disconnected pieces of land in violation of the state constitution. The court ordered new maps with contiguous districts, but also said the maps must not favor one party over another.

The Dec. 22 ruling set off a furious dash to meet a March 15 deadline set by the state elections commission to have new boundary lines in effect for the state’s August primary. Candidates have to submit nomination papers signed by residents of the district in which they are running by June 1.

Following Friday’s map submissions, a pair of consultants hired by the Supreme Court will analyze the proposals and issue a report by Feb. 1.

The consultants could choose to ignore all of the maps submitted last week and put forward their own plan. Or, they could adopt maps as submitted, with or without changes. The Supreme Court has said it will enact a map unless the Legislature passes plans that Evers would sign into law, a highly unlikely scenario.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, along with Evers, a conservative Wisconsin law firm, a liberal law firm that brought the redistricting lawsuit, a group of mathematics professors and a redistricting consultant submitted new maps on Friday.

“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.”

Marquette University Law School research fellow John D. Johnson did an analysis of the maps using a statistical model to predict the results of the 2022 state legislative election had they taken place in the newly proposed districts. This year, different Senate seats will be up for election and turnout will be higher because of the presidential election.

Still, the analysis shows that the Assembly maps would keep a Republican majority ranging from as low as one seat to as high as the current 29 seat margin.

The 50-49 Republican majority map was submitted by Law Forward, the Madison-based law firm representing Democratic voters that brought the lawsuit. The map maintaining the current 64-35 breakdown was proposed by Republican lawmakers.

Republicans only addressed the contiguity issue in their maps, resulting in fewer changed boundary lines than other proposals.

In the Senate, five of the seven submitted plans would maintain the Republican majority, according to Johnson’s analysis. It would range from one seat, under plans from Evers and Law Forward, to 13 seats under the Republican map.

The maps proposed by Senate Democrats and a redistricting consultant who intervened in the case would give Democrats a narrow majority of either three seats or one seat.

Republicans have indicated that they plan an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing due process violations, but it’s not clear when that would occur.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has suggested the appeal will argue that liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz, who called the current maps “rigged” and “unfair” during her run for office, should not have heard the case. Her vote was the deciding one in the ruling that ordered new maps to be drawn.