A Closer Look at the Partisan Implications of Gov. Evers’ Proposed Maps

When the Wisconsin Supreme Court tossed the state’s legislative district maps in December 2023, they invited the legislature and governor to once more seek an agreement on state legislative maps. The Court also simultaneously solicited proposed remedial maps from the parties to the original court case—one of whom was Gov. Evers himself.

The Court ultimately accepted submissions from six parties, 4 liberal or Democratic and 2 conservative or Republican. Having had the chance to review all the proposals and fearing what the Court’s new liberal majority might do, Republican legislators suddenly found themselves in the unexpected position of supporting Evers’ own proposal. On February 13, both houses of the legislature passed Evers’ map submission, with near uniform Republican support and only one vote in each chamber from Democrats.

Republicans explained their sudden support for Evers map as simply picking the worst of several bad options. In Senator Van Wanggaard’s words, “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. We chose to be stabbed, so we can live to fight another day.”

As I write this, Gov. Evers has not yet signed these maps; although, he has indicated he likely will.

The differences between the partisan lean of Evers’ plan and the three other Democratic-aligned proposals are small but measurable. The Court’s consultants calculated separate partisan bias scores and mean-minus-median-gaps for each plan in their report. For each measure, Evers map is not the best (of the four) for Republicans in either house, but it does have the most favorable Republican score when averaged across both houses.

The consultants also calculate each plan’s “majoritarian concordance,” or the reliability with which it converts an electoral majority into a legislative majority. Considering both houses across 13 statewide races since 2016, the Evers map fails the majority concordance standard 6 times—all in instances where a losing GOP candidate would’ve still won a majority of legislative seats.[1] No other plan fairs quite so well for Republicans.

Another benefit to Republicans is a small reduction in paired incumbents, relative to the other Democratic-aligned plans. The governor’s plan places 25 Republican Assembly incumbents into a district with another incumbent, compared to between 27 and 31 in the other plans. In the Senate, the Evers plan pairs 1 more Republican incumbent than the Senate Democrat’s proposed map, but fewer than either the Law Forward or Wright proposals.[2]

These partisan differences between the Democratic-aligned plans appear, if anything, smaller in the 2022 elections, when the Evers map would’ve performed very similarly to the Law Forward plan. The graphic below compares the partisan lean of the tipping point seat in each house under three different election scenarios.

partisan lean of the tipping point seat in the wisconsin legislature under various scenarios

The rightmost graph shows the share of the vote won by Tony Evers in his reelection campaign. Evers won the state by 3.4 percentage points, enough to give him a majority of the seats in both houses under all four of the Democratic-aligned proposals. (Note: These statistics cover all 33 state senate districts).

The middle graph shows the share of the vote won by Ron Johnson in his reelection campaign. Johnson won the state by one percentage point. That narrow victory would’ve won a majority of the seats in both houses under the Evers and Law Forward plans. Johnson still would’ve narrowly lost both houses under the plan submitted by the Wright Petitioners. Under the Senate Democrats map, Johnson would’ve won a majority of seats in the Assembly and lost a majority in the state senate.

Of course, state legislative races are decided by their own candidates—not top of the ticket races. We can’t simply add up state legislative votes in new districts, because many of the old races were not contested by both parties. Instead, I employ a statistical model using top-of-the-ticket races to estimate state legislative results, had both parties run candidates. The results of that model are shown in the leftmost graph. In general, state legislative Republicans did about 1 point better than Ron Johnson.

Indeed, under my modeled estimate of 2022 state legislative races, Republicans would’ve likely held a majority in every house of every plan, except for the state senate in the Senate Democrats proposal. (Again, this considers all 33 seats, not just the 17 odd-numbered districts being elected in 2022).

The 2022 result is not a prediction of 2024. The larger presidential electorate, heightened attention, greater fundraising, and variable incumbency effects may change the contours of those legislative races in consequential ways.

Still, these three election scenarios give a reasonable sense of the range of outcomes in recent Wisconsin elections. With that in mind, here are graphs showing the lean of each legislative seat under the Evers proposal compared with the previous map.

comparison of assembly seat margins

In these graphs, each tick mark shows the partisan lean of one seat. The larger, red tick mark shows the tipping point seat—the one that determines majority control. This is another way of visualizing the statistics I discussed above. In both houses, the tipping point seat was won by both Gov. Evers and Senator Ron Johnson in their 2022 reelection campaigns. State legislative Republicans did slightly better than Johnson, but even in that scenario, the tipping point seat is far more competitive than in any scenario under the old maps.

comparison of senate seat margins

Here is a greatly simplified version of the above graph. In these graphs, I have simply counted the number of seats leaning to each party by double and single digit margins, under each scenario. The first row shows the Evers map, the second row shows the previous maps.

assembly simple seat lean totals

Under the old maps, Ron Johnson won a double-digit victory in 55/99 Assembly districts and 19/33 Senate districts. That falls to 46 and 15, respectively, under the Evers proposal—short of a majority.

Under all three scenarios and in both houses, the Evers map creates a situation where majority control will be decided by a set of more competitive districts.

assembly simple seat lean totals

Click the image below to open an interactive map where you can view the Evers map and the previous district boundaries, with the districts shaded by my modeled 2022 legislative margin. For simplicity’s sake, the rest of this discussion will reference only that election scenario.

The Evers map creates 42 Assembly districts with a double-digit Democratic lean and 4 districts with a single-digit lean. Here are where those changes take place.

  • The south central region now includes 16 D-leaning seats, up from 12 previously. None of these are particularly competitive.
  • Racine/Kenosha now include 4 D-leaning seats, up from 3.
  • The Milwaukee metro includes 14 double-digit D-leaning seats, up from 13. The area retains 1 district with a single-digit Democratic lean.
  • The City of Sheboygan is unified, becoming a district with a single-digit Democratic lean.
  • Oshkosh/Neenah/Appleton are drawn to include 3 D-leaning seats, rather than 2.
  • The Eau Claire area is drawn to include 2 D-leaning seats, rather than 1.
  • Northwestern Wisconsin is redrawn to include one D-leaning seat, stretching along the coast from Superior to Ashland.
  • The La Crosse area is drawn to include 2 D-leaning seats, rather than 1.

To win a majority in November 2024 under the Evers map, Democrats could win all of the seats which lean toward them, plus four of the 7 districts with a single-digit Republican lean. The most likely targets include districts 61 (SW Milwaukee suburbs), 88 and 89 (both in the Green Bay area), and either 85 (Wausau) or 30 (Hudson).

Similarly, to win a majority in the state senate, Democrats would need to win the 10 seats with a double-digit Democratic lean, all 6 seats with a single digit lean in their favor, and one of the two seats with a single-digit Republican lean. Both of those seats are in the Milwaukee suburbs. District 21 stretches from Racine, through Oak Creek and Franklin, up to the southwestern part of the city. District 8 includes much of Milwaukee County’s north shore, as well as southern Ozaukee County.

Because only even-numbered districts will hold election in 2024, I see essentially no chance of Democrats winning a majority this November. However, Democrats have three likely pickup opportunities in 2024 with the Evers senate map—districts 14 (NW of Madison), 18 (Fox Valley), and 30 (Green Bay). Any one of these pickups would end the GOP supermajority in the upper chamber. Winning all of them will put the senate majority very much in play during the 2026 cycle.


[1] These races are Secretary of State 2022 and President 2020 among Assembly seats as well as AG 2018 and Governor 2018 among both Senate and Assembly seats.

[2] Incumbent pairing statistics are from page 13 of the Legislature’s response brief.

Continue ReadingA Closer Look at the Partisan Implications of Gov. Evers’ Proposed Maps

The Republican Legislators’ Revised Version of Gov. Evers’ Proposed Remedial Plan may Contain Noncontiguous Districts

The Wisconsin Legislature passed new state legislative maps on January 23 and 24, 2024. First, the Senate passed a substitute amendment to 2023 Assembly Bill 415. It passed 17-14, with the support of only Republican senators. The next day, the Assembly passed the same amendment, likewise without Democratic support. Governor Evers promised to veto the maps shortly thereafter.

The legislature’s latest maps are very similar to the remedial maps submitted by Evers himself to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Compared to his plan, the maps passed by the legislature move 1,292 out of 202,510 census blocks. The main motivation seems to have been separating incumbent Republican legislators paired in the governor’s map.

In making these small changes, the Republican legislators created three noncontiguous districts–two in the Assembly and one in the Senate. The noncontiguous blocks are small and unpopulated. They could easily be assigned to an actually adjacent district without changing anything meaningful about the district.

The blocks are 550099400071006 in Assembly district 88, the same block in Senate district 30, and 550350008031031 and 550350003011036 in Assembly district 93.

The maps below show each of these districts. The noncontiguous blocks are shown in red. The main component of the district is shown in blue.

I created these districts using the block assignment file used to draft the legislation in question, which I obtained from the Legislative Reference Bureau. You can download a copy here. I also verified these block assignments within the full text of the substitute amendment, which you can view here.

Click each image to view it as an interactive web map.

AD 88

map showing the noncontiguous section of AD88

AD 93

AD 93 map showing noncontiguous sections

SD 30

map of noncontiguous section of SD30

Regarding the joint stipulation

A set of ward fragments (themselves consisting of multiple blocks) contain incorrect ward and municipality labels. All the parties agreed on a list of such blocks in a joint stipulation dated January 2. These ward fragments do contain the three noncontiguous census blocks in the legislature’s latest plan. The meaning of the join stipulation is contested among the parties, but it is clear that the stipulation does not challenge the location of any of the given census blocks. Moreover, the legislative Republicans are one of the parties explicitly rejecting the idea that the join stipulation had anything to do with contiguity. See footnote 8 of their response brief filed January 22.

For a thorough discussion of the join stipulation and contiguity, see this blog post which describes similar contiguity issues in the Senate Democrats proposed remedial map.

Continue ReadingThe Republican Legislators’ Revised Version of Gov. Evers’ Proposed Remedial Plan may Contain Noncontiguous Districts

Does One of the Proposed Remedial Redistricting Plans Contain Noncontiguous Districts?

Background

The Wisconsin Supreme Court enjoined the further use of Wisconsin’s existing state legislative maps in any future election when it ruled on December 22, 2023 that the current maps are unconstitutional because they include noncontiguous districts. The state constitution requires “[Assembly] districts to be bounded by county, precinct, town or ward lines, to consist of contiguous territory and be in as compact form as practicable” (Wis. Const., art. IV, sec. IV).

Previously, this provision had been interpreted to allow physically separated sections of a single municipality to be placed in a single district, even if this meant that the district, taken as a whole, lacked contiguity.

The 2023 ruling rejected this flexible definition of contiguity in favor of a strictly literal rule. “[F]or a district to be composed of contiguous territory, its territory must be touching such that one could travel from one point in the district to any other point in the district without crossing district lines.” Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, 2023 WI 79, ¶ 66. Literal islands don’t violate this requirement. “A district can still be contiguous if it contains territory with portions of land separated by water.” Id., ¶ 27.

Extent of noncontiguity

Seven proposed redistricting plans were submitted to the Supreme Court on January 12, 2024, as discussed in an earlier post. One of them—that of the Democratic Senator Respondents—includes several Assembly districts with noncontiguous land areas.

In an Expert Report submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in support of the remedial maps proposed by the Democratic Senator Respondents, Kenneth Mayer maintains that these districts should not be counted as noncontiguous. “The remaining cases of apparent non-contiguity stem from ward fragments resulting from errors in the underlying Census data, which the parties have agreed should not be counted as noncontiguous” (p. 7 of the report). I discuss below whether this data stipulation has any relevance to territorial contiguity.

The noncontiguous Assembly districts are the 44th, 45th, 47th, 48th, 91st, 92nd, and 98th. In total, the unconnected segments include 34 census blocks, of which two are populated according to the 2020 census count. The populated blocks are “550250008001000” in AD48 (pop. 88) and “550350008021018” in AD92 (pop. 14). The remaining blocks are generally tiny strips of land and in any event are unpopulated.

The redistricting plans submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court are defined by block assignment files—spreadsheets which list each census block in Wisconsin, along with the district to which it is assigned. I obtained the block assignment files for this plan from links shared by Senate Minority Leader Hesselbein on X on January 12th.

I measure district noncontiguity by matching the block assignment files to the Census Bureau’s block GIS file. Then, I measure the adjacency of each census block and identify the components of the resulting network. Replication code is available here.

The following graphics show the noncontiguous sections of each Assembly district. Each block in the main component of the district is outlined in blue. Any disconnected blocks are outlined in red. Click here to view a web page with interactive web maps.

maps showing assembly districts with disconnected sections

The Joint Stipulation

On January 2, the parties to the case filed a joint stipulation describing a series of deviations, agreed to by all parties, from the official redistricting data.

The stipulation mainly deals with 216 ward fragments, themselves including nearly 300 blocks, with incorrect ward or municipality labels. The incorrect labels seem to originate with the original Census Bureau data. This matters because the parties don’t want to be penalized for splitting a ward (or municipality) when, really, it is the label that is incorrect. In the stipulation, the parties agreed on a consistent way to correct and handle these ward and municipality designations.

The position of the Democratic Senator Respondents is that this stipulation also means that the specified blocks should not be counted as physically noncontiguous with the rest of the district.

Here are the relevant paragraphs from the Joint Stipulation. In his report (p. 7 & n.6), Mayer cites paragraphs 8 and 9. I also include paragraph 7, which may be relevant.

7. All parties agree that the Franklin ward and the 215 additional ward fragments identified in Appendix A do not reflect true municipal-ward “islands,” that is, noncontiguous territory which is separated by the territory of another municipality from the major part of the municipality to which it belongs, see Wis. Stat. § 5.15(1)(b), (2)(f)(3).

8. All parties agree that detaching any of the 216 ward fragments identified in Appendix A from the rest of the ward to which it is assigned in the August 2021 Redistricting Dataset will not count as a ward split when evaluating a proposed remedial map.

9. All parties agree that any of the 216 ward fragments identified in Appendix A will be considered part of the municipality to which the August 2021 Redistricting Dataset and the 2020 Census Redistricting Data assigned it, regardless of whether that assignment may have been due to error in the U.S. Census data, when evaluating a proposed remedial map.

Paragraphs 8 and 9 address whether or not incorrectly labelled blocks should be counted as ward or municipality splits. This has nothing to do with physical contiguity.

The meaning of paragraph 7 is less clear to me. What does it mean to say that the ward fragments are not actually “separated by the territory of another municipality from the major part of the municipality to which it belongs”? What if the ward fragment is separated by another district from the main body of the district to which it belongs?

One thing is clear. The Joint Stipulation does not dispute the actual physical location of any of the census blocks. Using the Census Bureau’s census block GIS file to draw maps defined by the Democratic Senator Respondents’ block assignment files will still result in situations where landbound portions of some districts are unconnected to the rest of the district.

Continue ReadingDoes One of the Proposed Remedial Redistricting Plans Contain Noncontiguous Districts?