What Happened in Wisconsin Could Help Democrats Take Back Congress

January 30th 2017

Thor Benson

A federal panel has upheld a ruling that threw out Wisconsin's gerrymandered district lines, according to The Nation, with the Republican-led state now required to come up with a new map by November 1.

Gerrymandering is when district lines are drawn to benefit one party. Essentially, politicians can draw maps to decide which voters are in which districts, and while the practice has long been exploited by both major parties, lately it's been mostly Republican politicians, who control the majority of state legislatures, trying to use it to their advantage.

Republicans have been able to win more state seats, and seats in the House of Representatives, thanks to gerrymandering. But in November 2016, a federal court ruled that Wisconsin's legislative maps were unconstitutional, a decision Republicans in the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, however, a federal panel has reaffirmed that the old districts must go.


“The decision by the federal court to require new redistricting maps by November 1, 2017 is great news for Wisconsin. Voters should always pick their elected officials instead of elected officials picking them. I hope that legislative Republicans are more competent with their second chance,” said Democratic state Senator Mark Miller

What's next for Wisconsin

"What courts typically do at this point is they allow the redistricting authority, in this case the legislature, to meet the constitutional requirements to draw a legal redistricting plan," Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at University of Florida and an elections expert, told ATTN:. "Wisconsin has a unified state government, so it should be fairly easy for them to draw a plan, so that should not be an issue. However, in Florida, where Republicans had a unified state government, they actually had trouble drawing a plan, and the court ended up imposing a court ordered plan on the legislature."

scott walker

McDonald said it's likely the legislature will continue attempting to gerrymander the map, making it just good enough to meet the court's minimum requirements. Those requirements have not been explicitly laid out, meaning Republicans will essentially be guessing at what they can do.

A significantly less gerrymandered map would mean Democrats having a better chance at winning seats in the House of Representatives and in Wisconsin's legislature. 

The plaintiffs in this case are hoping that, when the Supreme Court does take it up, it not only upholds the ruling with respect to Wisconsin but establishes a national standard for what constitutes a fair and legal legislative district.

supreme court

"What they would hope is that... there could be a Constitutional standard for partisan gerrymandering" from the Supreme Court, McDonald said. That could radically alter the political landscape and help Democrats take back seats in Congress and state legislatures across the country.