Merriam-Webster defines gerrymandering as the following: “to divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.” With the dawn of each decade, the new census allows each state’s legislature to redraw its district maps to coincide with population shift. Standard practice has always been that districts are redrawn as fairly as possible while giving some leeway to protect the incumbent politicians of the party in power. The word gerrymandering, which has a negative connotation, comes from 1812. Then-Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry redrew districts to gain political advantage leaving some to be shaped like a salamander. Gerry + Salamander = Gerrymander.
In the modern age of technology — where emails always surface and nary a backroom deal goes un-unveiled — we now frequently get a look into how politicians manipulate the system to benefit their party for years to come. In Wisconsin, where the Tea Party hit the ground running in 2010, the notion of fairness was thrown out the GOP window going 75 on I-39.
New documents obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal show that Badger state Republicans did little to hide the political motivation behind their decisions. On May 4th, 2011, State Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) wrote to Tad Ottman, the aide of then-Sen. Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald, proclaiming her giddiness that the GOP was in charge of the gerrymandering saying, “This is such a big task. So glad we are in control!”
A look into Vukmir’s email reveals a desire to “waste” as many of the opposition’s votes as possible.
The documents were turned over to new Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller (…the recall did have an effect!) by Michael Best & Friedrich, the firm that was paid $431,000 in taxpayer money to give the Wisconsin GOP an unfair advantage until 2020. Former Sen. Majority Leader Fitzgerald has stuck by his story that districts were created fairly without political bias but these new documents indicate that the speakers fingers must be eternally crossed.
One document released Tuesday detailed how many districts would be safe for Republicans, GOP-leaning, swing districts, safe Democratic, or lean Democratic under at least one version of the redistricting plan. It showed a dramatic increase in likely GOP seats, but Ottman said that chart did not represent the final breakdown.
Another chart shows a breakdown of the last 10 years of Wisconsin elections, and which districts went to Democrats or Republicans.
Ottman confirmed he prepared the charts.
Assembly minority leader and recall candidate Peter Barca suggests that these documents prove the Wisconsin GOP lied to its constituency:
“To me, it’s sort-of the smoking gun that shows that all of their efforts were political, partisan and about protecting their power,” Barca said. “It shows their deceitfulness. They consistently maintained this was not about politics.”