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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers Signs Bill Ending GOP Gerrymandered Districts

Analyses suggest the state legislature will now more accurately reflect the state's “purple” status.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers speaks at a rally on October 29, 2022, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed into law a series of new legislative maps intended to make elections more competitive in the state.

The new maps conclude a several-monthslong legal battle after the state Supreme Court deemed previous maps unconstitutional late in 2023.

The 2023 ruling was made possible by a dramatic ideological shift in the state’s highest court, following the election of liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz. In the 4-3 ruling, the state Supreme Court found that the maps violated the state’s constitutional rule that all districts drawn up by the state legislature had to be contiguous. Those maps, designed by Republicans, had created districts with several “islands” that were disconnected from their main legislative territories.

Following the ruling, the court mandated that interested parties — including the state legislature, the governor, and other entities involved in the lawsuit that overturned the state legislative maps — submit different ideas for the court to evaluate. The court also stated that it wouldn’t choose new maps if the state legislature and Evers were able to agree on a replacement.

Fearing that the court could enact a map that would disadvantage them more than Evers’s maps, the Republican-dominated state legislature reluctantly approved the governor’s maps last week.

“Republicans were not stuck between a rock and hard place. It was a matter of choosing to be stabbed, shot, poisoned or led to the guillotine,” Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard said. “We chose to be stabbed, so we can live to fight another day.”

Most Democrats in the state legislature voted against Evers’s maps, fearing that Republicans may be planning a legal challenge that could be won in the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court. In a press conference at which he signed the new maps into law, however, Evers said it was important to sign the maps into law to fulfill campaign pledges he had made to voters.

Evers expressed an optimistic tone, calling it a “new day in Wisconsin, as creating fairer, more competitive maps to match the state’s “purple” status had been a legislative priority of his since 2018.

“To me, the decision to enact these maps boils down to this: I made a promise to the people of Wisconsin that I would always try to do the right thing,” Evers said. “Keeping that promise to me matters most, even if members of my own party disagree with me.”

Wisconsin’s maps were drawn by Republicans in 2011 following the Tea Party wave, and redrawn again following the 2020 census. Several legal experts, including the Gerrymandering Project at Princeton University, widely considered the state to be one of the most gerrymandered in the country. Prior to 2011, the state legislature was somewhat competitive — in the two decades prior to those maps being enacted, for example, the state Senate switched political control four times, with Democrats in control of the chamber a majority of that time. Since the 2011 redrawing, the state Senate has been solely controlled by Republicans, with the gap in seats between the two parties almost two times wider, on average, than it had been in the preceding decade.

According to analysis from The Cap Times, a Madison-based news publication, the new maps will add a number of additional Democratic-leaning Assembly and Senate districts, as well as make other districts in the state much more competitive. Even with these changes, however, Evers’s maps don’t guarantee Democrats will win control of the state legislature — indeed, separate analyses indicate that, while it gives Democrats the possibility of winning, Republicans are still projected to win the legislature in the fall, albeit by much smaller margins compared to the past several election cycles in the state.

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