Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature cannot be budged. Not by the governor. Not by the people. Not by vigilantes in the streets. Not by the Milwaukee Bucks. Wisconsin’s brutally gerrymandered state legislative maps — by almost every standard, the nation’s most biased — guarantee that they can’t even be budged at the ballot box. And so they remain an immovable and unaccountable force.
This is the very real damage to representative democracy done by gerrymandering. It’s hardly the first example here in Wisconsin, where citizens have so little control over their own representatives you can scarcely call it a democracy at all.
Ordinarily, elected representatives might think twice before stiff-arming legislation backed by 80 percent of the state, or fear the wrath of the people for forcing voters to cast ballots, in person, and risk catching Covid-19 simply by exercising their right to vote. Wisconsin’s legislature, however, has insulated themselves from any consequences — indeed, insulated themselves from the people and the ballot box — by the district lines they drew themselves during the 2011 decennial redistricting.
Republican operatives and savvy mapmakers barricaded themselves into a Madison law office, dubbed it the “map room,” claimed attorney-client privilege for their furtive work, required legislators to sign a non-disclosure agreement before even being shown their own new district, and designed fancy regression models that ensured Democrats would hold a minority of seats even they won up to 57 percent of the statewide vote.
The maps have exceeded their designers high expectations all decade long. In 2018, for example, Wisconsin voters re-elected a Democratic U.S. senator, backed Evers for governor over two-term Republican incumbent Scott Walker, placed Democrats in every elected statewide office, and preferred Democratic assembly candidates by a margin of 190,000 votes. Republicans held the chamber, 64-35. They won 64 percent of the seats, with 46 percent of the votes.
How rigged are Wisconsin’s maps? So rigged that the Harvard’s Electoral Integrity Project, which quantifies the health of electoral systems in America and worldwide, rated the state’s electoral boundaries as a three on a scale of one to 100. This is not only the worst rating in the nation, it’s lower than any nation graded by the EIP has ever scored on this measure. This is not a rating received by a functioning democracy. It is the rating of an authoritarian state.
Absent some seismic shift in public option in these gerrymandered districts, we can’t even vote these deadbeat politicians out of power, even while they force citizens risk their health to vote. Our only hope might be that their complete dereliction of duty during the pandemic triggers an electoral earthquake off the scale.
Wisconsin’s decade-long subjugation to illegitimate, minority Republican control has been the pilot for the rest of the country at every level of government.