Gerrymander is Alive and Well
Data from November election tells a tale of totalitarian tendencies.
In the November election, Republicans won 63 of the 99 Assembly districts (63.6 percent), while Democrats won 36 (36.4 percent). How does the breakdown in number of seats compare to the actual vote totals for candidates? Here, things get a bit complicated.
The most common way to make the comparison is to add up the total votes for Assembly candidates across Wisconsin. Doing so gives 1,308,454 (54.2 percent) for Democrats and 1,103,521 (45 percent) for Republican candidates. But these totals give a misleading picture of underlying support for each party’s legislative candidates.
Here is the problem with this method: In 38 of the 99 districts, only one of the two major parties fielded a candidate. In 30 of those elections, there was no Republican; the other 8 lacked a Democrat. No doubt, the absence of a candidate was due to a decision there was no chance of winning the district.
With no candidate, a party gets no votes in a district. But even the most unbalanced district favoring one party will have some number of voters who favor the other party. This is apparent when looking at voting by district for state-wide candidates. For statewide candidates, a vote from Waukesha County is just as valuable as one from Dane County. Without the votes he got in heavily-Republican Waukesha County, for instance, Democrat Tony Evers would have lost the race for governor.
This suggests a way to adjust the raw Assembly vote to get a more accurate picture of statewide sentiment towards Assembly candidates: use statewide results from the governor race (with a 50.6 percent Democratic edge) for districts where one or the other party was missing. Doing so adjusts the total to show suggest that about 52 percent of voters would have voted for Democratic legislators and 48 percent for Republican legislators if both parties had contested every district.
The graph below uses that approach to determine how many Assembly seats each party would have won with various percentages of the vote: The red line shows the number of districts (the vertical axis) that Republicans would win while receiving vote totals between 41 percent and 59 percent, and the blue line shows the number that Democrats would win.
To take control of the Assembly and win 50 of 99 seats, as the graph shows, Democrats need 54.7 percent of the vote; by contrast, Republicans need support from only 45.5 percent of voters. In the range between winning 41 percent and 59 percent of the votes, Republicans win substantially more districts than Democrats whatever their vote share.
You can see how the vote for the candidates for governor and U.S. Senator would have translated to the number of Assembly districts won. Thus, while Evers won 50.6 percent of the two-candidate vote for governor, he carried only 36 of the 99 Assembly districts; whereas Scott Walker’s 49.4 percent of the vote won 63 of the 99 seats. In the US Senate race Tammy Baldwin won 55.4 percent of the vote and 55 of the Assembly districts.
Baldwin’s vote percentage was barely enough to flip the Assembly control. But that fell far below what Republicans could have gained with that vote percentage. Republicans winning 55.4 percent of the vote would gain them 68 Assembly districts.
In addition, to winning 55 Assembly districts, a flip of 19, Baldwin won 18 state Senate districts, flipping six. Where did her additional votes come from?
This chart shows that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir got 90 percent of the Walker vote. The other 10 percent flowed to Baldwin. These percentages are remarkably consistent between districts, regardless of how partisan a district was. This means, of course, the more Republican the district the larger the number of votes for Baldwin from the 10 percent of votes flowing to her from Walker.
State legislators are the closest to those we represent. … Citizens from every corner of Wisconsin deserve a strong legislative branch that stands on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison.
The problem with this argument is that the gerrymander has made the legislature a highly unrepresentative and undemocratic body. Around 52 percent of the electorate—those voting Democratic–has been effectively disenfranchised, with little ability to influence Wisconsin’s laws and policies.
Next, sounding very much like a third-world military justifying their coups against a democratically-elected government, Fitzgerald admits that his beef is that the policies of the incoming administration might deviate from those of the outgoing administration.
Today’s extraordinary session codifies into law reforms that have been eight years in the making. Law written by the legislature and passed by a governor should not be erased based on the political maneuvering of an incoming administration.
“Political maneuvering” is a curious way to describe the change in policies that arise from a democratic election.
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.
Apparently, Wisconsin’s biggest cities are inhabited by some inferior species, whose votes should be ignored.
Both in the United States and internationally there is growing concern about the future of democracy. A recent issue of the Atlantic magazine was devoted to the issue, with cover headline: “Is Democracy Dying?” In Europe, countries liberated from the Soviet Union, such as Poland and Hungary, seem to be slipping back into totalitarianism.
The most recent annual report from Freedom House shows more countries slipping backward than forward. Their concern extends to the United States, both because it has downgraded its historical role as an advocate of democracy under the present president and because of actions similar to those in Wisconsin and other states, notably North Carolina.
In addition to using gerrymanders to entrench the governing party and changing laws to handcuff an incoming administration, these include schemes making it harder for opponents’ supporters to register and vote.
Given Wisconsin’s historic role as a pioneer in reforms to expand democracy, it is startling to see it singled out as a pioneer in the move towards less democracy.
More about the Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts
- Data Wonk: Gerrymander is Alive and Well - Bruce Thompson - Dec 12th, 2018
- Board Adopts Supervisor Moore Omokunde Proposal to Decriminalize Marijuana - Sup. Supreme Moore Omokunde - Nov 6th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: The Fight Against Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Oct 30th, 2018
- Democrats Refile Redistricting Suit - Shawn Johnson - Sep 16th, 2018
- Amended Whitford Complaint Highlights Harm Caused by Wisconsin’s Partisan Gerrymander to 40 Plaintiffs Across 34 Districts - Campaign Legal Center - Sep 14th, 2018
- The State of Wasted Votes - Malia Jones - Jul 2nd, 2018
- Data Wonk: Can Democrats Still Contest Gerrymander? - Bruce Thompson - Jun 27th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Democrats Rejected Redistricting Reform - Steven Walters - Jun 25th, 2018
- Supreme Court Punts on Gerrymandering - Shawn Johnson - Jun 18th, 2018
- Republican State Leadership Committee: The Efficiency Gap is “Sociological Gobbledygook” - Republican State Leadership Committee - Jun 18th, 2018
- Response to Gill v Whitford decision to remand back to trial court - Fair Elections Project - Jun 18th, 2018
- The Art Of Gerrymandering Milwaukee - Malia Jones - Jun 9th, 2018
- The Push for Nonpartisan Redistricting - Cathleen Draper - Jun 5th, 2018
- U.S. Supreme Court Nears Decision on Wisconsin Redistricting Case - Cathleen Draper - Jun 2nd, 2018
- Data Wonk: Many Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Mar 14th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Will U.S. Supremes Rule on State Districts? - Steven Walters - Feb 19th, 2018
- Back in the News: Majority Now Backs Fair Redistricting - Bruce Murphy - Feb 5th, 2018
- Data Wonk: John Roberts’ Nightmare - Bruce Thompson - Oct 11th, 2017
- The State of Politics: You Be The Judge on Redistricting - Steven Walters - Oct 2nd, 2017
- Op Ed: U.S. Supreme Court Should End Partisan Gerrymandering - Andrea Kaminski - Sep 26th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Judges Consider a Democratic Gerrymander - Bruce Thompson - Aug 30th, 2017
- Op Ed: 24 Counties Have Voted for Fair Maps - Matt Rothschild - Aug 25th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Right Wing Seeks to End Democracy? - Bruce Thompson - Aug 23rd, 2017
- Data Wonk: US Supreme Court Wrong on Redistricting? - Bruce Thompson - May 31st, 2017
- Op Ed: Save Taxes With Nonpartisan Redistricting - Andrea Kaminski and Lindsay Dorff - May 26th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Why GOP Backs Gerrymander - Bruce Thompson - May 24th, 2017
- Data Wonk: State’s Political Map At Issue - Bruce Thompson - May 18th, 2017
- Rep. Peter Barca Statement on Attorney General Appeal of Redistricting Decision - State Rep. Peter Barca - Feb 24th, 2017
- Fair Elections Project calls upon Legislature to focus on fair map drawing process - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Feb 24th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: GOP’s Redistricting Lawyers Are Big Donors - Matt Rothschild - Feb 6th, 2017
- Op Ed: Reject Partisanship, Redraw Voting Maps - Andrea Kaminski - Feb 3rd, 2017
- Rep. Peter Barca Statement on Assembly Organization Committee Secret Ballot - State Rep. Peter Barca - Feb 2nd, 2017
- Court Watch: Court’s Redistricting Order A Problem? - Bruce Thompson - Feb 1st, 2017
- Rep. Hesselbein Calls for Open, Transparent, and Public Process for Drawing New Legislative Lines - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Jan 27th, 2017
- Wisconsin Federal Court Permanently Blocks State Redistricting Plan - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Jan 27th, 2017
- Data Wonk: 2016 Election Results Prove Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Dec 28th, 2016
- Plaintiffs call for new maps for Wisconsin legislative district - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Dec 21st, 2016
- Data Wonk: Measuring Wisconsin’s Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Dec 7th, 2016
- Sen. Taylor statement on federal court ruling against Republican gerrymandering - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Nov 21st, 2016
- Statement on Redistricting Ruling - State Sen. Chris Larson - Nov 21st, 2016
- Federal Court overturns unconstitutional gerrymandering of Wisconsin legislative districts - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Nov 21st, 2016
- Rep. Barca Statement on Redistricting Decision - State Rep. Peter Barca - Nov 21st, 2016
- HISTORIC DECISION: Wisconsin Federal Court Strikes Down Partisan Gerrymander and Adopts Groundbreaking Legal Standard - Campaign Legal Center - Nov 21st, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: The Myth of Democratic Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Jan 26th, 2016
- Data Wonk: Can New Approach End Gerrymandering? - Bruce Thompson - Jan 6th, 2016
- Federal Lawsuit to Overturn Unconstitutional Gerrymandering of Wisconsin Legislative Districts Continues - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Dec 17th, 2015
- Can Auto Redistricting End Gerrymandering? - Laura Thompson - Dec 10th, 2015
- Assembly candidate Brostoff calls for non-partisan redistricting - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Apr 17th, 2014
- Redistricting reform the antidote to Republican extremism - Press Release - Nov 13th, 2013
- Lazich, August, Fitzgerald and Vos Still Silent on Redistricting Reform Public Hearings As Support & Pressure Builds - Common Cause in Wisconsin - Sep 17th, 2013
- Freshmen legislators push new legislation to correct flawed partisan redistricting process - Press Release - Apr 11th, 2013