During the lame duck session in Wisconsin’s state legislature, a coup of sorts has taken place. Robin Vos, the current Republican Speaker of the State Assembly, has overseen the passage of legislation that will empower the State Legislature at the expense of the incoming Governor, Tony Evers, simply because Evers is a Democrat. Their ability to even attempt this is due to gerrymandering, the manipulation of voting districts in order to favor one party over another.
A staple of American democracy is the separation of powers, both at the state and federal levels of government. For Republicans to compromise the integrity of their offices after losing every statewide election in November is more than petulant– it’s anti-democratic and absurd.
Some of the measures the State Assembly has voted on include a bill to terminate the solicitor general’s office in the state’s Department of Justice. Another will prevent Evers from removing Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit against the ACA, a campaign promise of his. There is also language limiting the early voting period to two-weeks, despite similar legislation being rejected by a federal judge in 2016 due to it being racially discriminatory.
The latter is especially disheartening given the state’s voting participation spiking this year, albeit unevenly. Although Wisconsin had the second highest voter turnout in the country during a record-setting midterm election, turnout in poorer areas, in part due to the state’s voter ID requirements, saw a decrease in participation. Rather than make it easier to vote, Republicans are doubling down on their efforts to make an election like this November’s less possible in the future.
Ultimately, this is all possible due to Wisconsin being one of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the country. Democrats in the State Assembly, for instance, won a greater share of the votes, 54%, but won just 36% of the seats. Despite losing by over 200,000 votes, Republicans in the state will have a supermajority. The fact that the majority of voters’ supported Evers and every other Democrat running for a statewide office is further proof of the voter’s support of a left-leaning agenda. Speaker Vos, who believes he knows better than voters, has continued on the path of limiting Evers precisely for this reason, stating “we are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.” Apparently only the people who voted for Republicans count to Vos.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Republicans have used a majority earned through gerrymandering to try to limit power for an incoming Democratic governor. Look at North Carolina:
Since winning his election in 2016, Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has been severely limited by a Republican supermajority, created because of gerrymandered maps, in the state legislature. An overarching theme during his tenure has been vetoing Republican legislation only for his vetoes to be overturned, administration positions cut by over two-thirds, and a partisan North Carolina Supreme Court electoral process. With the cards already stacked in their favor, voter fraud on the part of Republicans would seem like overkill, and yet, it is now coming out that an illegal absentee ballot harvesting scheme in favor of the Republican candidate took place in the state’s 9th Congressional district.
Another recurring theme we are seeing nationwide is politicians pretending as if they know better than voters, and legislating like it. In both instances outlined above, elected officials are not reconsidering their views when the electorate does not vote their way, or compromising with the other party. Instead, they are simply bending the rules– judicially and surreptitiously (i.e. gerrymandering). And because the result of their actions is the weakening and suppression of the vote, there is little voters can do after the fact.
With events like these taking place, it’s hard to argue against the common, apathetic and mistaken excuse of nonvoters that their vote doesn’t matter, especially with the Supreme Court punting on gerrymandering cases. And yet, somehow, someway, those of us that care about our country and its future cannot give up. The one silver lining, however, would be the record voter turnout that has made it possible for voting reform to have a fighting chance in the federal legislature. With a sweeping democracy reform bill in HR 1 standing as House Democrats’ first priority, gerrymandering, which made it possible for Republicans to win the majority of seats in both Wisconsin and North Carolina, may become a thing of the past.