Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Redrawing lines in state

by Neal Kedzie - State Senator

July 28, 2011

Every 10 years, Wisconsin gets a makeover. This makeover is the process by which senate, assembly and congressional districts are geographically adjusted and boundary lines redrawn in order to maintain equal representation throughout the state. The law requires redistricting to occur every ten years and the Legislature has the constitutional charge to redraw the maps to coincide with U.S. Census Bureau information. Any new redistricting map will apply to legislative offices filled starting at the next general election in November, 2012 and remain in effect for the next 10 years.

How Americans are counted has become as important as how many are counted. With demographics changing, the stakes are always high, as control of state and federal houses can be affected by redistricting. In Wisconsin, responsibility for redrawing legislative and congressional district lines rests with the state Legislature, although Congress has the right to regulate and modify state plans. The courts may also weigh in if the Legislature can not agree to a new map, as was the case in the last three decades. However, with Republicans currently holding the majority in the Legislature, such disagreements were avoided and the new maps were recently approved.

Since 1973, Wisconsin has had 33 Senate Districts and 99 Assembly Districts. An odd number of districts exist in order to reduce the likelihood of tie votes in the Legislature. Each district is divided evenly based on the state’s population as estimated by the Census Bureau. For instance, the population of each Assembly District is about 57,000 residents, and each Senate District, comprised of three Assembly Districts, is estimated to have about 172,000 residents.

Over the last decade, populations have shifted in different areas of the state, requiring the need for redistricting. While some areas grew, others lost population, and many districts experienced both at the same time. Since 2000, Wisconsin has gained about 323,000 residents, about a 6 percent increase, which is still less than the national average of about 10 percent compared to 2000.

Of course, those 323,000 Wisconsin residents are not divided up equally among the existing districts. As an example, a Senate district in the Madison area is over the average population by more than 25,000, while another in Milwaukee area is under by more than 19,000. In order to maintain the “one-person-one-vote” standard whereby everyone’s vote counts the same, there can not be a 50,000-person gap between the biggest and smallest legislative district; that’s where redistricting comes in.

Redistricting is a rapidly evolving process. Just a couple of decades back, the maps were literally drawn with printouts and colored pencils. But today, with new technology, redistricting has become quite sophisticated, and the state now has an interactive map located on the Wisconsin State Legislature’s website, which allows you to zoom in on every detail and nuance of the new lines. But regardless of such advances, the redistricting process is still a basic and required constitutional duty for the Legislature, which was completed just recently.

There are a number of factors considered while creating a redistricting plan. The fundamental principle of redistricting is ensuring each district is nearly equal in population. The rights of minorities, compactness of area, contiguity, and community interest are all factors when deciding where the new lines will be drawn. The new maps will set the political boundaries for the next ten years, and depending on where you live, you may have new representation in the Wisconsin Legislature or United States Congress. If you would like to view an interactive redistricting map, you may visit the home page of my legislative website at:

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or on-line at