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WI election watchdog: Results a mixed bag for democracy

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

The long-term effects of Wisconsin's redistricting process were once again highlighted in this week's elections. A nonpartisan good-government group says voters who feel overlooked shouldn't give up in demanding solutions.

Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, won re-election this week, but Republicans maintained strong control over the Legislature, falling just short of a super-majority. Jay Heck, executive director of the group Common Cause in Wisconsin, said Evers maintains his veto power but Republicans still carry a lot of weight, partly because they keep redrawing the maps to their advantage.

"There were more votes cast for Democratic candidates statewide than Republican," Heck said, "but the contrast with the legislative elections in the state is so sharp it almost makes laughable the idea that we have a true representative democracy."

Researchers have said that over the past decade, Wisconsin has produced among the most gerrymandered voting-district maps in the country. Heck said demanding change isn't about helping the other party, noting that Illinois Democrats rely on a similar approach. He said voters should look ahead to next year's state Supreme Court election, with the hope a less politicized court could eventually revisit the issue.

Legislation could be floated again next year to develop an independent redistricting process. There is bipartisan support for it, but Heck predicted that Republicans still would put up a strong fight. In the meantime, he said, the current maps allow a smaller percentage of voters to decide who controls the Legislature, leaving other voters behind in fair representation.

"Urban areas in Wisconsin have suffered a decline in the shared revenue from the state," he said, "even though those people pay taxes."

Heck said that means less support for schools, roads and other public needs. Analysts have said lawmakers representing these areas get packed into boundaries that ultimately diminish their voices at the State Capitol. While the governor can push for more aid in his budget plan, Republicans still have a big say in final spending plans.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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