By LaKeshia N. Myers
Gerrymandering is the decennial fight for lines drawn to declare power and representation at every level of government. For some it is par for the course, but for political junkies, it is blood sport. The official definition of gerrymandering is, “manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class to achieve (a result) by manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency” (Oxford English dictionary, 2021). Both Democrats and Republicans have done it and it can change the political landscape for generations to come. And for many, Wisconsin has become ground zero for gerrymandering.
Wisconsin is at the center of gerrymandering controversy because of the way gerrymandering occurred in 2011-12. The Republican-led state legislature, with aid from former Gov. Scott Walker, drew maps that gave its party a clear advantage in state legislative races. Neighborhoods and sometimes single streets are carved in such intricate ways, to ensure a Republican victory. This is why, even though more Wisconsinites voted for Democrats in 2020 (and Democrats currently hold every constitutional office), the state Assembly and state Senate both have Republican majorities. In essence, if every person in your neighborhood decided to vote for a Democrat, a Republican could still win due to data manipulation.
While this is the general lesson on gerrymandering, there are multiple layers to the story. Of particular note is how race can be used in the redistricting process. Racial gerrymandering is when districts are drawn to dilute the voting power of a certain racial group. This has a long history in this country, and it’s explicitly banned. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which gave minorities an equal opportunity to participate in elections, prohibits racial gerrymandering. However, federal courts decide what is and isn’t a racial gerrymander. In Wisconsin, it has been a long standing practice that apportionment for minority representation mirrors minority population.
African Americans make up 6.41% of the state’s population, this translates to six solidly African American assembly seats (meaning if an African American person ran, the community would be able to elect an African American), all of which are within the City of Milwaukee. For the state senate, this translates to two majority minority districts, both of which are currently held by African Americans (Senators Lena Taylor and LaTonya Johnson). This makes perfect sense, seeing as though 70% of the 374,747 Black people that live in the state live in the City of Milwaukee.
What is disturbing to me is that the maps created by Gov. Tony Evers’ People’s Map Commission would inextricably dilute African American representation. The borders proposed in the maps submitted by the commission reach into suburban communities that have differing voter turnout rates, voting patterns, and do not share common interests.
For example, the proposed map for Senate District Four, stretches from Lake Michigan all the way to Menomonee Falls, WI. I would bet money that the voters of ZIP code 53206 have different needs and interests than those living in Menomonee Falls.
As the legislature prepares to vote on the redistricting bill next week, I would like the community to know where I stand; I will not accept any map that is gerrymandered in such a way that would defeat the will of the people. Nor will I support any map that would remove African American representation from our state legislature. Neither is acceptable. I will not “take one for the team” or pretend that the People’s maps are representative of all of the people, there are deficiencies that are too great to overlook.