Here there be dragons!
After last week’s election, our liberal-progressive-socialist acquaintances are pouting. They finally unseated that Republican golem, Scott Walker, but still lost the state legislature to Republicans. Got to be cheating! What else would explain the imbalance except that ol’ devil Gerry Mander?
How can Democrats sweep the statewide offices but lose 63 of the 99 state Assembly districts?
“Mostly the Republicans’ big advantage in the Legislature is the result of cheating,” the Wisconsin State Journal whines. They wuz robbed!
Let’s take a deep breath and crunch a few numbers. Yes, Republicans retained control of the State Assembly, where all 99 members were on the ballot (unlike the upper house).
In the first place, Tony Evers won Wisconsin’s governorship by a hair’s breadth — less than 31,000 votes or 1.1 percentage points. Not a lot of coattail.
‘We wuz robbed!’
Even so, Democrats and their allies cry, their state Assembly candidates garnered 1.3 million votes to Republican’s 1.1 million. So, how do Republicans enjoy a 63-36 advantage. “The maps are rigged!” cries Sachin Chheda, a Democrat(ic) operative.
Breathe, people! Let’s start with home-sweet-home Dane County. Would it surprise that the 8 Assembly districts encompassed entirely within the bluest county in state elected 8 Democrats? Would it further surprise you that not one of those Democrats faced a Republican opponent? Let’s include the five other districts that take in smidgeons of Dane County — and those 5 were contested. Democrats still out-polled Republicans by 222,289 votes. In other words, Dane County alone accounted for the Democrats’ statewide advantage in Assembly votes. (The governor’s race was, of course, contested in every county and Dane County gave Democrat Evers a 150,000 head start on Republican Walker.)
Now let’s look statewide. Democrats ran unopposed in 22 more districts — largely in Milwaukee — for a total of 30 Democrats without a Republican opponent. Meaning that Republicans in almost one-third of the 99 Assembly districts received exactly zero votes. None, nada, 0.00.
Some Republicans also got a free ride but not nearly as many. Only 8 Republicans were unopposed. For those of us who were not math majors, that’s a difference of 22 more Democrats unopposed than Republicans.
Sure, Republicans could have contested those 30 districts. That’s not the point. Wisconsin — as with all 50 states — elects its legislature district by district, not by the statewide aggregate. (Republicans tend to be green eye-shade business people who won’t make a political race unless they have a reasonable chance to win.)
The State Elections Board hasn’t conducted its official canvass yet so we don’t have exact numbers of votes cast in legislative races. But it is more than plausible that a difference of 22 more Democrats unopposed compared to Republicans more than accounts for the 200,000-vote gap.
[ ADDENDUM: It is argued that the absence of Republican challengers in Dane and Milwaukee County districts itself proves gerrymandering. Note that Walker-Kleefisch received 69,206 votes in dark blue Dane County, home to those 8 uncontested Democrat Assembly candidates, and 124,880 in Milwaukee County, home to most of the others. Republican A.G. Brad Schimel claimed 73,022 in Dane County. ]
Three men and a truck
The Policy Werkes is not naive. We have no doubt that a Republican who toiled in the vineyards and narrowly survived close election after close election was granted a break in the last redistricting. But district after district? If Peter keeps getting robbed, Paul will pay with razor-thin margins that could evaporate in a light political breeze.
Look at the maps. Try to spread out Chris Taylor’s Democrat votes from Madison’s isthmus to, say, Dodge County. Or Shelia Stubbs’ votes from Monroe Street to Walworth County. You would have snake-shaped districts that would make Elbridge Gerry blush.
Republicans did not pack our Left-of-Center acquaintances into Democrat(ic) ghettos: Three men and a truck did that.
As Republicans have argued in the Democrats’ never-ending court challenges, the Constitution guarantees one citizen, one vote. The courts have also demanded contiguous and compact legislative districts that respect communities of interest. It does not demand politically competitive districts.
Democrats can veto next map
In any event, there is a cure for this geographic partisan imbalance. It is called the executive branch. Governors are elected statewide. Tony Evers will be a brake on the Republican legislature and vice versa. And he will have veto power over maps drawn after the 2020 Census — rendering the Democrats’ court challenge over the post-2010 maps entirely moot.