Wisconsin adopts new legislative maps, giving Democrats chance to win state

<span>Tony Evers shows new signed legislative maps on Monday at the state capitol.</span><span>Photograph: Mark Hoffman/AP</span>
Tony Evers shows new signed legislative maps on Monday at the state capitol.Photograph: Mark Hoffman/AP

The Wisconsin governor, Tony Evers, has signed into law a pair of new state legislative maps, undoing a Republican gerrymander that has shaped Wisconsin politics for more than a decade and giving Democrats a chance at winning control of the state in future elections.

“It’s a new day for Wisconsin,” said Evers at a press conference on Monday to cheers from a room of anti-gerrymandering activists.

His signature likely marks the end of a protracted fight over Wisconsin’s legislative lines and greatly reduces the Republican bias baked into the current maps. Republicans have enjoyed unchallenged control over the state assembly and senate for more than a decade because of legislative maps they drew to ensure that they would have large majorities in both chambers even in years Democrats won the majority of votes statewide.

The new maps are the result of a December ruling from the Wisconsin supreme court that the current state assembly and senate maps are unconstitutional. The court ordered the state to adopt new legislative maps before the 2024 election. Evers, lawmakers in both parties and multiple outside groups submitted revised maps to the court for consideration. After consultants hired by the court to review them said that the maps drawn by the Republican lawmakers maintained their partisan gerrymander and “do not deserve further consideration,” Republicans lawmakers decided to adopt the maps Evers had proposed – which give them a slight edge at maintaining their majorities – rather than roll the dice on court-drawn maps that could benefit Democrats even more.

“We kind of have a gun to our head,” said Republican state senator Duey Stroebel during the senate debate over the bill on 13 February.

Republican lawmakers had done everything they could to avoid this outcome, even threatening to impeach supreme court justice Janet Protasiewicz, whose election in April 2023 created a liberal majority on the court. They dropped the threats only after a panel of former Wisconsin supreme court judges recommended against pursuing impeachment.

Evers signed the bill despite pressure from powerful Democrats in the state to veto it. When the bill made its way through the legislature, Democratic lawmakers opposed it nearly uniformly, citing concerns about a line in the bill that leaves the current maps in place for recalls and special elections ahead of the November general election. And they have expressed concerns about possible future legal challenges to the legislative maps and general distrust of the Republican legislators who agreed to the law’s passage.

“If you believe that WI Republicans are planning to run on Gov. Evers’ maps in November, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you,” wrote Democratic state senator LaTonya Johnson on the social media site X.

But it’s not clear exactly what those legal challenges would look like.

“I am extremely skeptical of this idea that there is a good basis for challenging the law, really on any grounds,” said Quinn Yeargain, a legal scholar who focuses on state constitutional law. “I’m as much of a partisan Democrat and progressive as anybody else is, but being intellectually honest about what’s going on here is also important.”

Evers had previously said he would sign these maps into law, and stood by his word.

“I did spend a lot of time talking to the folks who had differences of opinion,” said Evers, of legislative Democrats who opposed the bill. “But I felt at the end of the day this is the right thing to do for the people of the state of Wisconsin.”

The maps were heralded by anti-gerrymandering activists in Wisconsin as a win.

“We’re in the business of fair maps,” said Nick Ramos, the executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and an organizer with the group Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition. “And Governor Evers’ maps are good – like, really good. They’re going to do a lot for the state.”