One of the arguments of the Wisconsin Department of “Justice” and other Republicans gave to SCOTUS is that increased bunching of Democrats into urban areas is a main reason behind the efficiency gap, and that there is little point in undoing the maps as a result. Better known as the “big sort” theory, the Wisconsin DOJ pointed to a study by University of Michigan researcher Jowei Chen which indicated that the geographic mix of Democratic vs Republican voters would give an edge to the GOP in the State Assembly even in a 50-50 election year.
Chen responded to the Wisconsin DOJ’s brief by writing an article in Time magazine titled “Wisconsin Is Misusing My Research to Defend Gerrymandering”. Chen points out that the study actually said that WisGOP’s map was so ridiculous and one-sided that the “big sort” theory could NOT explain it away.
…Of the 200 computer-drawn plans, 144 produced a very small efficiency gap (within three percentage points of zero), indicating the plans gave no substantial advantage to either Democrats or Republicans. The remaining 56 simulated plans exhibited an efficiency gap of between -5.8% and 3%; a negative efficiency gap indicates bias in favor of Republicans. This shows that Wisconsin’s natural political geography skews not all that much overall, but very modestly in favor of Republicans. This natural skew is modest enough that most computer-simulated plans produce nearly zero bias in Wisconsin.It’s not surprising that a Wisconsin DOJ run by GOP partisan hack Brad Schimel would say anything to allow the Republicans to hold onto their ill-gotten gains (a defense that cost Wisconsin taxpayers $256,000 through the end of July). But the underlying point in Chen’s article reiterates one of my sayings: “If you’re lying, you’re losing.” And boy are the WisGOP hacks lying to try to make their gerrymanders seem OK.
These levels of natural bias completely pale in comparison to the much more extreme partisan bias in the districting plan the legislature approved and is presently using. The actual map has an efficiency gap of -15.1%, meaning a Republican bias several times that of most simulated plans and over twice as large as even the most Republican-favoring map among the 200 simulations. Given these results, it’s statistically extremely unlikely that a neutral districting process, following traditional districting criteria, could have produced a plan exhibiting as much electoral bias as the Wisconsin Legislature’s plan.
Colleagues of mine have conducted a different simulation that looked at more than a trillion election outcomes. They found that there was less than a 1 in 1,000 chance that a random map could be as biased as the Wisconsin Assembly map. From these simulations, it is obvious: Wisconsin’s legislature could easily have produced a map with little to no partisan bias.
While there is some small natural advantage to Republicans based on residential patterns of Republicans and Democrats, natural geography can explain only a small portion of why the Wisconsin Assembly maps have such an overwhelming partisan bias. And the legislature’s efforts to create 10 to 15 additional Republican districts came at the expense of traditional districting principles, splitting apart far more counties and municipalities than were necessary and producing unnaturally-shaped districts.
The dishonesty may not matter with this Supreme Court. I’ve grown quite cynical of the right-wingers on that bench since their absurd rulings of “superPACs are independent” in Citizens United and “protections against racist voter suppression aren’t needed any more” in Shelby County v. Holder. The reality of WisGOP rigging Wisconsin’s maps so badly that they can ignore the will of the typical Wisconsin voter may not make a big difference to this crew.
But regardless of legality, everyday people don’t like gerrymandering. A national poll released last month from DC’s Celinda Lake’s polling firm said that 71% of 1,000 voters agreed that the Supreme Court should put together new, specific rules on redistricting, with sizable majorities across all parties. And they especially hated the concept that one party would be favored in redistricting. It;s noteworthy that Republican politicians such as Ohio Governor John Kasich and former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole filed briefs asking for Wisconsin's gerrymander to go. And this former governor also joined in.
Which means that no matter what the outcome of Gill v. Whitford is, if I ran the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, I would be saying the words “gerrymander” in every public speech. Any Wisconsin Dem with guts should make the Republicans defend their act (whether found to be unconstitutional or not) and promise to outlaw gerrymandering if they are put into power (and unlike 2009, DO IT if they get chance). Such a strategy is a political winner because the average person knows that what the GOP to rig the maps has done is bullshit, and in their gut they know gerrymandering is a reason why politicians don’t seem to listen to or care about them.
And I maintain enough faith that enough Wisconsinites aren’t gutless Pom-Pom wavers and ultimately want good, responsive government regardless of party. Dumping gerrymandering would be a great start toward regaining that good government, either through SCOTUS action, or through removing all Republicans in 2018 so they can’t do it again.