Rock River Mapping Team (In progress)

Very kindly, the Rock River DistrictR Mapping Team invited me to join them in Whitewater for May and June, 2021(with many thanks to the Jefferson County Fair Maps Coalition for introducing me to them).

I enjoy projects, especially projects that arise from the challenges that other people present to me. One of the aspects of collaborating with other people in community mapping that I enjoy the most is the opportunity to extract challenging projects from team conversations. While I was using one of my training maps to illustrate my points, I was asked, "We travel from Whitewater to both Fort Atkinson and Janesville a lot. So why can't we place both cities in the same Congressional District?"

In response, I created a new Wisconsin Congressional District Map Proposal based on two specific premises new to me. One was the importance of Janesville to Whitewater. The second was that the Whitewater School District crosses two different County Borders, the border to Jefferson County and the border to Rock County.

In retrospect, it makes sense that, today, school district funding is one of the most important community issues facing the parents of children. For the people within a single school district, it is a great hardship to contact a diverse set of State Senate and State Assembly members to request improved funding for a split school district. Not all public representatives will pay attention to a small group of their voters, especially when it requires collaborating with another colleague from another voting district. Consequently, keeping school districts intact during redistricting efforts is one of the most important tasks in the state. One might even consider that school district borders are even more important to State representational government than county borders. However, aligning school districts with voting wards is the responsibility in Wisconsin of local County, City, Village and Town officials, not the State government. Aligning school districts with voting wards is at least a ten year project.


As with many other Wisconsin redistricting issues, most problems arise out of old traditions that were born when Wisconsin was first populated, even before Wisconsin became a State. Then, transportation through Wisconsin was mainly by water. People collected along the natural harbors of the Great Lakes and along the banks of rivers. Villages and cities were created on waterways. When the Territory became a State, counties were created around the villages and cities of that time. Not until much later did population growth determine which counties were to become heavily populated. Yet county outlines remained the same. When one room schoolhouses were replaced by larger school buildings, they were often based on convenient, local transportation patterns. As student busing became more common, school districts merged to share the costs, often crossing county lines. As a result, the old county borders have become almost irrelevant to large portions of the voting population, especially in highly populated areas.


Accordingly, I decided to try creating District maps based on utilizing school districts as the smallest mapping unit. Compared to my original training map, when I focused on maintaining county borders, this focus on school districts weakened the influence of some County borders.  However, the maps below reveal how closely county borders can still be maintained when focusing on school district borders.


Unfortunately, I also found many areas of Wisconsin that never strictly coordinated local voting ward borders with local school district borders. Of course, this lack of coordination is just another accident of history we now have to correct. I now realize that good representational mapping will require an enormous amount of planning to occur at local and State government levels before really effective mapping can begin. My belief now is that difficult representational mapping problems will need to be solved over many years of local, regional and State collaborations. However, the Wisconsin mapping results below, with school district borders illustrated on the left and county borders illustrated on the right, demonstrate how closely one can equalize populations across the eight, newly-proposed Congressional Districts (link to this DistrictR interactive map):

WI Congressional District Proposal-3.png
WI Congressional Districts Proposal-3 Co

A map focused on southeastern Wisconsin illustrates a few more points. Again, note how the minority populations in Milwaukee County were supported by creating a proposed Congressional District (labeled 4 and colored light green). The newly proposed District 4 is centered on the Milwaukee Public School District with a smaller white population than is found in other Wisconsin school Districts. Next, two huge Secondary School Districts in SE Wisconsin drove the outlines of the proposed District 1 (dark blue) and proposed District 5 (fuchsia).

WI Congressional Districts Proposal-3 SE

Together, the constraints applied to these three districts in SE Wisconsin had ripple effects across the State, affecting proposals for the other five districts. In summary, these eight, newly proposed Wisconsin Congressional Districts are fairly compact, have extremely well balanced voting populations, keep school districts largely intact and still allow most Wisconsin Counties to remain whole.

Other work published to the WI Peoples Map Commission by the work out of Whitewater includes maps published from WhitewaterWhitewater-Richmond Township, Whitewater Lake, East Troy and Janesville. This image of the Whitewater Township map provides an excellent example of community mapping:

Whitewater Township.png

As the Rock River Team reaches out to train other teams in Southeast Wisconsin, I'll add links to those efforts as well.