UWEC professor's work tied to Wisconsin redistricting case

Madison Wisconsin - Capitol Building
Madison Wisconsin - Capitol Building(WEAU)
Published: Jun. 11, 2018 at 9:43 PM CDT
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There's 6,624 voting districts in the state of Wisconsin and Ryan Weichelt tries to figure them all out.

The geography professor at UW-Eau Claire is one of the editors of the recently released "Atlas of the 2016 Elections", but, the recent case of realigning Wisconsin’s legislative districts has made him analyze how the state aligns its votes.

"What we look at, in terms of studying redistricting, is looking at compactness as one of these types of ideas. How compact is that district – meaning how circular or rectangular or square it is," Weichelt said to WEAU 13 News on Monday. "If we look what happened to 2010 and then 2012 when redistricting happen - at all levels, both State Assembly, State Senate and then the congressional levels - those districts got way out of control. Just strange shapes."

Weichelt is like many who are waiting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in the Wisconsin redistricting case, but he said that a ruling Monday from the high court may shed some light on how it will decide. By a 5-4 vote, the justices allowed Ohio to clean up its voting rolls by targeting people who haven't cast ballots in a while.

"This particular court seems to be leaning, when it comes to voting in some cases, more towards the states being the ones to make the decision,” Weichelt said. "That could lead to a situation in Wisconsin that the court could be leaning on, saying it's up to Wisconsin to make their decision about how they want to do the redistricting process."

Weichelt said the next big test for analyzing geography impacts to the electorate will be in special elections tomorrow – the 1st State Senate district, encompassing Door and Kewaunee counties, on the peninsula and the 42nd Assembly district, which is just north of Madison.

Weichelt’s work is also part of a recently-completed chapter for the book "The Changing World Language Map," in which he lays out the latest on redistricting and gerrymandering - but admits, something is missing.

“It was an unfortunate reality of that book being done, because we really don't have an ending,” he said. “The end of the chapter was about the Wisconsin Gill vs. Whitford case.

“I tried to get them to hold back, but they wouldn't and they need to get the publication out, but it was sort of a book without an ending right now.”