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Half Of State Legislative Races This Fall Will Not Have A Major Party Challenge

Republican, Democratic Parties Unwilling To Run Candidates In Districts They're Likely To Lose

Michael Rosenstein (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Half of all Wisconsin legislative candidates up for election this fall won’t face a major party challenger and are almost certain to win their seat.

There are 115 state legislative seats up for election this November, but voters in 58 of those districts will only have one choice for a major party candidate. That’s because either the Republican or Democratic parties aren’t fielding contenders in unfavorable districts.

For Mort Sipress, a University of WisconsinEau Claire emeritus political science professor, it’s a result of powerful new voting maps drawn by Republicans during the 2011 redistricting.

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“Both parties have come to recognize that they waste a lot of money if they run candidates in losing districts and that has discouraged even the possibility of competition in many parts of the state,” said Sipress.

In the 2012 election, after current voting maps were drawn, only 25 seats went unchallenged by the major parties when Democrats ran candidates in all but five state legislative races. That strategy was short-lived, however, as the number of seats uncontested by a major-party candidate in the 2014 general election climbed to 46.

In a lawsuit over the state’s Republican drawn voting maps, experts testified that Wisconsin’s has some of the most gerrymandered legislative maps in modern American history.

But as Joe Heim, UW-La Crosse emeritus political science professor, sees it, gerrymandering isn’t a tactic unique to a single party.

“Both parties do this by the way, it’s not unusual,” he said. “The difference is that the Republicans were a little more sophisticated at it and were a little bit better at it frankly.”

In the last general election held under Wisconsin’s previous electoral maps, which were drawn in 2001, there were 25 legislative seats uncontested by the major parties.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of districts in which Democrats ran candidates in 2012. It has been updated.