Fox Cities campus students get crash course in Wisconsin gerrymandering


University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students recently got an up-close look at the gerrymandering of electoral maps with the help of somebody tasked with making those shenanigans a thing of the past.

Quest III American Government, a course taught by Jason Neumeyer during the winter interim, featured a project where students learned about the drawing of congressional districts. Neumeyer, an associate political science lecturer on the Fox Cities campus, focused on Wisconsin and ongoing efforts to rid the state of maps drawn for specific political purposes.

The class—made up of students from a variety of majors and programs—connected specifically with Melissa Prentice, who represents Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District (which includes all three UWO campuses) in the People’s Maps Commission. That commission is the nonpartisan redistricting team created last year by Gov. Tony Evers. Nine Wisconsin citizens, each representing a current congressional district, were chosen for the commission and are holding public hearings around the state. They’ll eventually draw new congressional districts and submit the plan to the legislature for approval.

The class met virtually with Prentice, where she explained the job of the commission and answered questions from the students. They later attended a virtual People’s Maps Commission hearing and heard expert testimony from community members and other commissioners.

Neumeyer said the idea came to him after listening to an episode of FiveThirtyEight’s podcast series The Gerrymandering Project.

“One of the episodes covered the extreme partisan gerrymandering which took place here in Wisconsin and I started to dig into the process a bit more last summer and realized that Wisconsin was one of the few states trying to implement this nonpartisan, commission-style redistricting,” he said. “When I was asked to teach a community engagement Quest III course, the idea of asking the students to engage with the process of redistricting came to me right away, especially with it being such a timely topic with our districts being redrawn this year.”

Alyssa Roland, a sophomore nursing major from Sauk Prairie, said by the end of the course she’d learned a lot on topics she’d been “oblivious to” at the start.

“I learned that it is nearly impossible to balance the scale in a way that represents both parties equally, however there are ways to satisfy the law and the people without extreme gerrymandering,” she said.

Neumeyer said the feedback from students was very positive. He met with the groups multiple times as they worked on redrawing the maps and listened to their discussions as they justified each decision.