Legislative maps proposed by GOP lawmakers and conservative voters are partisan gerrymanders, while four Dem proposals largely meet the criteria laid out by the state Supreme Court, including being politically neutral, two consultants wrote to the justices.
Consultants Bernard Grofman and Jonathan Cervas, two redistricting experts hired by the liberal court to evaluate the maps, didn’t recommend which Dem proposal they thought was superior, finding none was dominant when it comes to political neutrality.”
Meanwhile, they wrote in their report released late Thursday the proposed maps from GOP lawmakers and the conservative voters represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty would preclude Dems from winning control of the Legislature unless their candidate at the top of the ticket does “well above a simple majority.”
“That kind of insulation from the forces of electoral change is the hallmark of a gerrymander,” they wrote. “To put it simply, geography is not destiny.”
The report had been highly anticipated for the possibility it could single out a map the redistricting experts believed the court should select for new lines. While it didn’t lock in on one map, the consultants made clear they believed the proposals from GOP lawmakers and WILL fell short on the partisan neutrality criteria the court asked them to weigh.
Republicans won a 22-11 majority in the Senate in the 2022 election and a 64-35 majority in the Assembly with lines they drew and the state Supreme Court picked in an earlier redistricting suit. GOP lawmakers have argued their advantage is due to the state’s political geography and the concentration of Dem voters in urban areas.
But Grofman and Cervas disputed that geography makes it inevitable that Republicans will win an outsized share of the districts, saying that was contradicted by the maps submitted to the court.
Grogman and Cervas found the map from GOP lawmakers “does not deserve further consideration.” Republicans only addressed the noncontiguous territory issues the court cited in its December ruling to overturn the lines used for the 2022 election, but didn’t make other changes to account for criteria the court laid out, such as partisan balance.
Meanwhile, the WILL map had a “substantial number of fails” on the criteria. Still, that map also performed very well on traditional good government criteria, including the best results on the splits of political subdivisions. Due to that, the consultants labeled the WILL map as a “stealth gerrymander.”
Dem Gov. Tony Evers, who submitted a map to the court, hailed the report as confirmation the proposal from GOP lawmakers was a partisan gerrymander.
“The days of Wisconsinites living under some of the most gerrymandered maps in the country are numbered,” Evers said.
WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg slammed the report for hiding “its bias behind a fog of faux sophistication.”
“Let’s be clear, our maps have been rejected for one reason and one reason alone, they don’t produce the partisan outcomes the experts or many on the Court want,” he said.
In contrast to the GOP proposals, the consultants found the maps submitted by the Dem voters who filed the suit, Evers, Senate Dems and a group of college professors improve “on traditional good government criteria compared to the current map and manage to create plans with modest levels of partisan bias.”
Those good government criteria include population equality, political subunit splits and compactness.
Those four maps would create a competitive environment in which the party that wins the most voters statewide will win the most seats most of the time, they wrote.
“This is compelling evidence that the geography of Wisconsin does not preclude the creation of good government maps that also seek to satisfy the goals of majority rule representation and avoiding political gerrymandering,” the consultants concluded.
Still, the report also found the plans could be improved. That includes, for example, the number of Native American reservation splits.
The parties now have until Feb. 8 to file a response to the consultants’ report.
In their report, Grofman and Cervas didn’t draw a map of their own, an option the justices gave them if the proposals submitted failed to meet the criteria laid out in the court’s Dec. 22 ruling. But they noted the court could instruct them to take one or more plans and improve them in terms of the criteria. They also wrote that the court could direct them to draw on more than one map to produce lines that improve on the performance on most or all of the criteria.
The consultants said it would be possible to further reduce the prevalence of political subdivisions in the submitted maps while meeting the court’s criteria.
“If the court were to instruct us to create such a map, we are poised to produce it quickly,” Grofman and Cervas wrote in the report.
Read the report.