The Wisconsin redistricting crisis

In 2020, the federally mandated census revealed population shifts that unbalanced voting districts across the state of Wisconsin, specifically their State Assembly and Senate districts. The previous voting districts were laid out according to a map passed by a Republican legislature in response to the 2010 census, and that map was largely designed to maintain Republican strongholds across the state by diluting Latinx and Black communities’ voting power. The 2010 electoral maps passed along party lines and were signed into law by former Governor Scott Walker and have remained in place these past ten years despite numerous legal challenges.

The 2020 census and subsequent electoral map redesign, now under the helm of Democratic governor Tony Evers but controlled by a Republican legislature, provoked conflict from the start. And why wouldn’t it? Democrats sought to overturn a decade of racial discrimination and unfairly diluted voting districts, while Republicans fought to maintain existing districts and control the seats they currently held in the legislature. The resulting legal battle made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where on March 23, 2022, the Court rejected the Democratic-drawn voting map on the grounds that they had created voting districts based primarily on racial makeup without sufficient justification. In the aftermath, the Wisconsin Supreme Court approved maps that largely resemble the Republican-backed maps of the last decade.

By now, you might be wondering, why does this matter? What about the Wisconsin voting districts could have been important enough to bring to the Supreme Court, and why does this deserve our attention in an era of endless political crises?

It matters because for the last ten years, the Wisconsin voting district maps have been nothing more than thinly veiled political redlining. The Wisconsin maps in play from 2010 to 2020 were widely considered to be some of the most skewed in the country. And the Republican mapmakers’ efforts paid off — even in races where Democratic candidates won in landslides, where entire districts flipped blue, the Wisconsin State Legislature has remained in Republican hands. Surely now, as abortion legislation consumes the political landscape and the 2022 midterms loom, the need for a fair voting map is clear.

These maps also represent a continued attack on the voting rights of communities of color. The Supreme Court’s decision goes so far as to specifically rebuke Governor Evers and the Wisconsin Supreme Court for doing too much to protect the voting rights of Black Americans by creating a new Black-majority voting district without providing strong evidence it was needed. In a state that for 10 years has had voting maps that condensed Black and Latinx voters into just six districts and keeps a number of districts Republican-majority due to political maneuvering. These same Republican majority districts have a tendency to pass laws and policies that directly harm marginalized communities with no ability to vote against them. 

Voting district maps may seem tedious and boring, but they represent the foundations on which every political act is approved or created. It’s our votes that approve referendums and our choices that elect representatives that pass laws that do or don’t protect our rights. If we allow voting maps that unfairly represent our numbers to stand we cannot possibly hope that our opinions will be fairly represented. And, as is far too common in the world, it is the most vulnerable and marginalized communities that will pay the price. 

 

goede1@stolaf.edu

Her majors are American studies and psychology.

 

Faith Goede
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