Tag Archives: wisconsin

Wisconsin post-election post

A few thoughts.

  • Crazy that, once again, a statewide election in Wisconsin is decided when a county clerk, late into the night, reveals a stash of not-yet-counted ballots.
  • Evers winning and Baldwin cruising while national media darling Randy Bryce got soundly beaten by boring former UW Regent Bryan Steil in a not-that-Republican district is further evidence for the ham sandwich theory of Wisconsin politics.  Bryce ran about a point behind Tony Evers in Racine, his own home county!
  • A lot of people asking “How can there be so many Baldwin-Walker voters?  It makes no sense!”  I think it makes sense.  In a state not experiencing any visible crisis, incumbency is an advantage.  The last Marquette poll had “state on the right track / state going the wrong direction” at 55/40.  Roughly speaking, if incumbency is a 5% boost and the state’s “mood” was +5% Democratic, you’d get a Democratic incumbent winning by 10 and a Republican incumbent locked in a tie, which is pretty much what happened.  There are plenty of people whose votes aren’t strongly ideological.
  • With all the focus on the governor’s race, hardly anyone was watching the state legislative elections.  They didn’t go well for Democrats, who lost Caleb Frostman’s Senate seat and may lose seats in the Assembly too, while Democrats elsewhere were making pretty big gains in state legislatures.  Some of that, probably most of it, is our ridiculously gerrymandered Assembly map.  I’ll write more about that when I know more of the final numbers in these races.  But there’s another thing going on, too — I think Wisconsin Democrats have figured out that turnout efforts in Dane and Milwaukee are the most efficient way to turn effort into votes.  Turnout for this election was high statewide but in Dane County it was crazy; Tony Evers got more votes in the county than Hillary Clinton did in a presidential year!  And it’s not cause Dane County doesn’t love Hillary Clinton.  But that focus doesn’t shift the Assembly or Senate map.
  • In 2014, the total votes for Attorney General were 95% of the governor votes.  This time it was 99%.  I read that as:  more voters voting party-line, fewer voting only for governor and leaving the AG line blank because all they know is the party.  But maybe I’m reading too much into it.

 

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Wisconsin pre-election post

I see no reason to doubt the polls that show a very close race between Tony Evers and Scott Walker for governor, but a healthy lead for incumbent Senator Tammy Baldwin over her challenger, Leah Vukmir.

In the current hyperpartisan environment, why are these two races so different?  For one thing, Baldwin and Walker are incumbents, and people in Wisconsin seem to mostly feel things are OK here (55% said the state was “on the right track” in the latest Marquette poll.)

But there’s something else.  I think in Wisconsin we like our politicians, well, not too salty.  Scott Walker is a bland guy.  He famously eats two ham sandwiches in a paper bag for lunch every day, and the thing is, I don’t think that’s an affectation, Walker really is a guy who doesn’t mind eating the same thing for lunch every day.  Tony Evers is bland, too, and he fought off seven spicier opponents in a wild primary, winning just about every county in the state.  When Tammy Baldwin announced for Senate people thought there was no way a movement liberal and out lesbian from Madison could win a statewide race.  She won it easily.  Because she is is a movement liberal out lesbian from Madison who in every way comes off as the super-nice mom at the PTA meeting who you go ahead and let make all the decisions because it kind of seems like she’s got this.

Leah Vukmir, by contrast, is a cookie-cutter Fox News Republican who wants to bring a meaner, harder-edged style to Wisconsin politics.  I don’t think it’s gonna work.  I think Wisconsinites, both Democrats and Republicans, prefer the ham sandwich in the paper bag.

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Wisconsin municipal vexillology update

Madison is changing its flag!  The old one

has a Zuni sun symbol in the middle of it, which people correctly feel is a sort of random and annoying and unrelated-to-Madison vic of somebody else’s religious symbol.  On the other hand, on pure design grounds it’s kind of a great flag!  Simple, but you see the lakes, the isthmus, the Capitol.  The new flag elegantly keeps all that while skimming off the cultural appropriation:

 

Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, pressure is mounting to adopt the People’s Flag. Milwaukee’s existing flag is an ungepotchkit mess, routinely ranked among the nation’s worst city banners.  I mean:

I think my favorite part of this mess is that there are two miniflags inside this flag, and the one that’s not the U.S. flag nobody even remembers what it is!

Anyway, this is the proposed new flag, currently the subject of hot civic dissent:

I think this is great.  Daring color choices, you get your lake, you get your big flat lake, you get your optimistic sense of sunrise.  Make the right choice, Cream City!

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Rebecca Dallet and the gerrymandered Assembly map

The fate of the current Wisconsin Assembly district map, precision-engineered to maintain a Republican majority in the face of anything short of a major Democratic wave election, is in the hands of the Supreme Court, which could announce a decision in Gill v. Whitford any day.

One theory of gerrymandering is that the practice isn’t much of a problem, because the power of a gerrymandered map “decays” with time — a map that suits a party in 2010 may, due to shifting demographics, be reasonably fair a few years later.

How’s the Wisconsin gerrymander doing in 2018?  We just had a statewide election in which Rebecca Dallet, the more liberal candidate, beat her conservative rival by 12 points, an unusually large margin for a Wisconsin statewide race.

The invaluable J. Miles Coleman broke the race down by Assembly district:

Dallet won in 58% of seats while getting 56% of the vote.  That sounds fair, but in fact a candidate who wins by 12 points is typically going to win in more seats than that.  (That’s why the courts are right to say proportional representation isn’t a reasonable expectation!)

Here’s the breakdown by Assembly district, shown a little bigger:

Dallet won by 2 points or less in 8 of the Assembly districts.  So, as a rough estimate, if she’d gotten 2% of the vote less, and won 54-46 instead of 56-44, you might guess she’d have won 49 out of 99 seats.  That’s consistent with the analysis of Herschlag, Ravier, and Mattingly conducted last year, which estimates that under current maps Democrats would need an 8-12 point statewide lead in order to win half the Assembly seats. (Figure 5 in the linked paper.)

I don’t think the gerrymander is decaying very much.  I think it’s robust enough to make GOP legislative control very likely through 2020, at which point it can be updated to last another ten years, and so on and so on.  This isn’t the same kind of softcore gerrymandering the Supreme Court allowed to stand in 1986, and I hope the 2018 Supreme Court decides to do something about it.

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Did Tim Burns voters come through for Rebecca Dallet?

Two liberal candidates, Rebecca Dallet and Tim Burns, combined for 54% of the vote in this February’s primary for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Dallet and the conservative candidate Michael Screnock, who got 46% in the primary, moved on to the general election in April.

There was some worry among liberal political types that voters who went for Burns, the vocally left candidate, would sit out the general rather than show up for the more conventionally liberal Dallet.  Did that happen?  Here’s something cool:  Wisconsin offers full statewide ward-level election results, which helps us figure that out!

First of all, here’s a ward-by-ward picture of the primary:

Each circle is a ward and its position in the triangle shows the proportion of votes going to Screnock (top vertex), Burns (left vertex), and Dallet (right vertex.)  The size of the circle is the total number of votes in that ward.  You can see that there’s no visible clustering, and that Dallet did much better than Burns.

So what happened in the general?

Well, first of all, Dallet won, and won big:  56-44.  But that doesn’t mean Burns voters showed up.  We can’t really know!  But the ward-by-ward data at least helps us make some guesses.

Quick and dirty:  you can do a linear regression on Dallet’s share of the general in terms of Burns’s and Dallet’s share of the primary vote.  I stripped out wards with fewer than 100 general-election votes, which still left 1827 wards.  You get

Dallet general ~ 0.724*Burns primary + 0.892* Dallet primary + 0.112

with a pretty decent fit

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 3 May 7.27.AM

The Burns coefficient is a little bit lower but I don’t see strong evidence that a lot of Burns voters skipped the general election.

Here’s a test I like a little bit more.  There are 79 wards where Burns and Dallet together got between 54 and 56% of the vote in the primary.  Among these wards, Burns’s voteshare ranged from 6.5% (Milwaukee ward 211) to 35% (Town of Moscow wards 1-2, a bit on the nose, don’t you think?)  If Burns voters were skipping the general election, you might expect Dallet to do worse in April in those wards where Burns did better in February.  Here’s the scatter.  If there’s a downward trend here, it’s not very strong.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 2 May 7.59.PM

My conclusion:  liberals gonna liberal.

Update:  I got the last scatter wrong when I originally posted this; if you remember the post being a little different, you’re right!

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Scott Walker and the noncommutativity of Wisconsin statute, part II

Hey so remember last month, when the Walker administration didn’t want to fill two empty legislative seats, so they decided to treat the state law forbidding this as if it said something else?

Here, I’ll recap.  The law, statute 8.50 (4) (d), says:

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.

The state has decided to pretend the law says, instead:

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat, before the 2nd Tuesday in May shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.

In other words, the state’s claim is that a special election is required only if the vacancy occurs between January 1 and the 2nd Tuesday of May in an election year.  Whereas what the actual law says is that an election is to be called if there’s a vacancy any time before that 2nd Tuesday in May, i.e. as long as there’s enough time to call an election and have the new officeholder participate meaningfully in legislating.

Six voters in the affected districts have sued the governor.  There’s a hearing in the Dane County Circuit Court this week, on March 22.

The state has issued its response to the petition.

I’ve read the response.  It upset me.  It really upset me!  Not because I even care that much about whether we hold these elections!  But because the people whose job it is to uphold our state’s laws don’t care what those laws are.

The state’s leading argument is “mootness,” which goes like this: “we’ve now delayed this long enough that voters would not longer get any meaningful benefit from the state fulfilling the law’s requirements, so the claim that we have to fulfill the law’s requirements doesn’t stand.”

That might work!

Then it gets really interesting.  Here’s a passage from the response:

Under Wis. Stat. §8.50(4)(d), the Governor has a positive and plain duty to call a special election only when a vacancy occurs in the year of a general election from January 1 until the 2nd Tuesday in May.  Because the vacancies here did not occur in that year, Governor Walker has no positive and plain duties to call special elections.

See what they did?  They switched it!  They switched the order of the clauses in the statute to make it say what it does not, in fact, say!  Not satisfied with that, they added the language about January 1, which isn’t present in the law!

Won’t the judge ask them about this?  Won’t the judge want to know what possessed the state to “paraphrase” a law by moving words around and adding language, instead of quoting the language of the statute itself?

The response then goes on to explain why their interpretation of the law “makes sense.”  What they in fact do is explain why it makes sense that a special election isn’t required for vacancies taking place after May of the election year (the point on which their claim agrees with the law).  They are silent on why it makes sense that a special election isn’t required before January 1 of the election year.  Because that doesn’t make sense.

Maybe the screwiest part of all of this is that the statute in question uses language that appears again and again in Wisconsin code.  Look, here’s how 59.10(3)(e) authorizes special elections for vacancies on county boards:

The board may, if a vacancy occurs before June 1 in the year preceding expiration of the term of office, order a special election to fill the vacancy.

According to the state’s account, this means that special elections are authorized only if the vacancy occurs in the year preceding the election year.

If that’s the case, nobody told Sauk County, where a special election was ordered in August 2016 to fill a vacant seat on the county board.  It’s hard to doubt there are many such examples — all unauthorized by state law, according to the Walker administration’s current claim.

How could Brad Schimel have put his name to this?

(Update:  here’s the plaintiffs’ response to the state’s response.)

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Bike/ski weekend

Last week, for the first time in my life, I bought a new bike.  For the last twelve years I’ve been riding a Trek hybrid I bought used when I moved here.  Before that, from about 1992 through 2005, I was on my mom’s 1967 Schwinn Breeze, which looked exactly like this one.

Anyway:  I got a new bike.  I got CJ one too.  Then AB was upset but she doesn’t get a new bike because she is growing very very fast and probably won’t be able to sit on the next bike she gets for more than a couple of years.  So we went to Dreambikes and got her a new used bike, knobby tires, shocks on the front fork, very cool.  The three of us took a spin around Wingra yesterday, about 7 miles, which is AB’s record for a non-stop ride.

Today was the last day of the season at Cascade Mountain, and my kids for the first time in many months and no activities scheduled, and the high for today was 55 degrees, and who doesn’t like to ski in shirtsleeves?  So off we went.  We were worried it would be packed.  But it was empty.  I guess everyone else in Wisconsin was using the first warm day of pre-spring to do outdoor activities not involving ice and snow.  But those who were there were festive.  There were a lot of guys in flannel shirts open with bare chest underneath; is that a look?  Several people in tutus.  A guy who played the guitar while skiing down the mountain.  A skiing Pikachu.

By mid-afternoon it was like skiing on a snowcone.  Huge puddles in the lift line.  But we had a great time.  If I were particular about the quality of my skiiing I wouldn’t be skiing in Wisconsin, would I?

 

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Scott Walker and the Let’s Eat Grandma theory of legislative interpretation

How do you know when to call a special election for an empty legislative seat in Wisconsin?  It’s right there in the statutes, 8.50 (4) (d):

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election. However, any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring after the close of the last regular floorperiod of the legislature held during his or her term shall be filled only if a special session or extraordinary floorperiod of the legislature is called or a veto review period is scheduled during the remainder of the term. The special election to fill the vacancy shall be ordered, if possible, so the new member may participate in the special session or floorperiod.

Pretty clear, right?  If a Senate or Assembly seat comes open before May of election year,  the governor has to call a special election, unless the last legislative session has already taken place and no extra legislative business is scheduled before November.  You hold an election unless the duration of the vacancy would be so short as to make the election essentially meaningless.

There are two seats in the Capitol open as we speak, the Senate seat formerly held by Frank Lasee and the Assembly seat once occupied Keith Ripp; both of them left to take jobs in the Walker administration in January.  But the governor has asserted that no special election will be held, and residents of those districts will go unrepresented in the legislature for almost a full year.

What’s Walker’s excuse for ignoring the law?  Are you sitting down?  The state’s claim is that the phrase “in the year” does not refer to “May,” but rather “any vacancy.”  So a vacancy arising in March 2018 is required by law to be filled “as promptly as possible” by state law, despite the severely limited amount of lawmaking the new representative would be have a chance to undertake; but if an assembly rep drops dead on the second day of the legislative term, the governor can leave the seat empty for two whole years if he wants.

I kid you not! That is the claim!

Do you think that’s really what the law says?

As this long, well-researched WisContext article makes clear, Walker’s “interpretation” of the law is, well, a novelty.  For fifty years, Wisconsin has been filling legislative vacancies promptly by special elections.  Most of these elections, according to Scott Walker, were optional, some kind of gubernatorial whim.  And it’s definitely not the case that the governor is leaving the seats empty because he’s spooked by the current lust-to-vote of Wisconsin’s Democratic electorate, which has already cost Republicans a long-held seat in Senate District 10.

The Walker administration would like us to read the law as if the phrases came in the opposite order:

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat, before the 2nd Tuesday in May

But English is non-commutative; that sentence says one thing, and 8.50 (4)(d) says a different thing.

Even an extra comma would make Walker’s interpretation reasonable:

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May, in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat

Commas change meaning.  As the old T-shirt says:  let’s eat grandma!

I suppose we should count ourselves lucky.  Given the syntactic latitude Walker has granted himself, where a prepositional phrase can wander freely throughout a sentence modifying whatever catches its fancy, he might have claimed a special selection is required only if a legislative vacancy occurs in May of an election year!  That would make just as much sense as the interpretation Walker’s claiming now.  Which is to say:  none.

What’s the remedy here?  I’m not sure there is one.  Someone in one of the affected districts could sue the state, but I don’t think there’s any prospect a lawsuit would conclude in time to make any difference.  I can’t see a court ordering an emergency halt to a legislative session on the grounds that two seats were illegally unfilled.

So there’s not much to stop the governor from breaking state law in this way.  Except natural human embarrassment.  A government that has lost the capacity to be embarrassed can be very difficult to constrain.

Update, Feb 26:  Looks like I was wrong to say nobody was going to do anything about this!  A group of voters in the affected districts, represented by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, sued Governor Walker today.  Good for them.

Update:  I’ve learned from lawyer friends that the principle that a phrase like “in the year” is understood to modify the thing it’s close to, not some other clause floating elsewhere across the sentence, has a name:  it is “the rule of the last antecedent.”

 

 

 

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Landlord rights and Wisconsin home rule follies

The era of small government remains over in Wisconsin, as the state legislature continues to chew away at municipal self-governance.  This time:  cities are prohibited from requiring regular inspections of rental properties.

Just to remind you again what the Wisconsin Constitution says on this point:

Cities and villages organized pursuant to state law may determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village.

Over the years, the state has accorded to itself the power to declare just about anything a city might do “of statewide concern,” rendering the Home Rule Amendment essentially null.  The statewide effect of Beloit requiring landlords to subject their rental properties to safety inspections every once in a while seems pretty minor to me.  I guess that’s why I’m not on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

And yes, I get that there’s lots of interpretation of the Commerce Clause that runs roughly along the same lines.  And yes, I get that a strong interpretation of home rule would keep states from invalidating discriminatory municipal ordinances unless they ran afoul of federal law.  But these judges say they’re pure custodians of the Constitutional text.  It gets up my nose when they act as if it doesn’t exist.

Good piece about the erosion of home rule from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

Previous blog post where I complain at length about previous SC-WI home rule jurisprudence.

 

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“Worst of the worst maps”: a factual mistake in Gill v. Whitford

The oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering case, are now a month behind us.  But there’s a factual error in the state’s case, and I don’t want to let it be forgotten.  Thanks to Mira Bernstein for pointing this issue out to me.

Misha Tseytlin, Wisconsin’s solicitor general, was one of two lawyers arguing that the state’s Republican-drawn legislative boundaries should be allowed to stand.  Tseytlin argued that the metrics that flagged Wisconsin’s maps as drastically skewed in the GOP’s favor were unreliable:

And I think the easiest way to see this is to take a look at a chart that plaintiff’s own expert created, and that’s available on Supplemental Appendix 235. This is plain — plaintiff’s expert studied maps from 30 years, and he identified the 17 worst of the worst maps. What is so striking about that list of 17 is that 10 were neutral draws.  There were court-drawn maps, commission-drawn maps, bipartisan drawn maps, including the immediately prior Wisconsin drawn map.

That’s a strong claim, which jumped out at me when I read the transcripts–10 of the 17 very worst maps, according to the metrics, were drawn by neutral parties!  That really makes it sound like whatever those metrics are measuring, it’s not partisan gerrymandering.

But the claim isn’t true.

(To be clear, I believe Tseytlin made a mistake here, not a deliberate misrepresentation.)

The table he’s referring to is on p.55 of this paper by Simon Jackman, described as follows:

Of these, 17 plans are utterly unambiguous with respect to the sign of the efficiency gap estimates recorded over the life of the plan:

Let me unpack what Jackman’s saying here.  These are the 17 maps where we can be sure the efficiency gap favored the same party, three elections in a row.  You might ask: why wouldn’t we be sure about which side the map favors?  Isn’t the efficiency gap something we can compute precisely?  Not exactly.  The basic efficiency gap formula assumes both parties are running candidates in every district.  If there’s an uncontested race, you have to make your best estimate for what the candidate’s vote shares would have been if there had been candidates of both parties.  So you have an estimate for the efficiency gap, but also some uncertainty.  The more uncontested races, the more uncertain you are about the efficiency gap.

So the maps on this list aren’t the 17 “worst of the worst maps.”  They’re not the ones with the highest efficiency gaps, not the ones most badly gerrymandered by any measure.  They’re the ones in states with so few uncontested races that we can be essentially certain the efficiency gap favored the same party three years running.

Tseytlin’s argument is supposed to make you think that big efficiency gaps are as likely to come from neutral maps as partisan ones.  But that’s not true.  Maps drawn by Democratic legislatures have average efficiency gap favoring Democrats; those by GOP on average favor the GOP; neutral maps are in between, and have smaller efficiency gaps overall.

That’s from p.35 of another Jackman paper.  Note the big change after 2010.  It wasn’t always the case that partisan legislators automatically thumbed the scales strongly in their favor when drawing the maps.  But these days, it kind of is.  Is that because partisanship is worse now?  Or because cheaper, faster computation makes it easier for one-party legislatures to do what they always would have done, if they could?  I can’t say for sure.

Efficiency gap isn’t a perfect measure, and neither side in this case is arguing it should be the single or final arbiter of unconstitutional gerrymandering.  But the idea that efficiency gap flags neutral maps as often as partisan maps is just wrong, and it shouldn’t have been part of the state’s argument before the court.

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