Wisconsin redistricting: Governor 'unlikely' to OK certain maps

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday it’s unlikely he would sign into law any maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature that are based on the current ones, boundary lines that solidified GOP majorities over the past decade.

The state Senate approved guidelines Tuesday for drawing new political boundary lines that require making the new maps adhere as closely as possible to ones drawn a decade ago. Democrats and Evers want the new maps to be drawn from scratch.

Those Republican-drawn maps enacted in 2011 have been identified as among the most gerrymandered in the country. The Legislature is preparing to vote on new maps this year as part of the once-a-decade job of redistricting.

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Evers was asked at a Tuesday news conference at the World Dairy Expo in Madison whether he would sign maps that are based on the ones in place now.

"If they’re based on the current maps that are clearly gerrymandered and have been rejected by a number of counties in the state through referenda, it’s unlikely," Evers said. "The current maps are inadequate and to base on our decision-making on that inadequacy would not be doing the people’s work."

Gov. Tony Evers

Gov. Tony Evers

Democrats, voting rights advocates and others pushing to have a nonpartisan commission draw maps instead of the Legislature oppose the resolution that is up for approval in the Senate and Assembly.

"If you’ve already rigged the maps once, then what you’re doing is you're burying, or baking in, that gerrymandering forever," Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, said Monday during an online event attended by advocates for creating a nonpartisan map-drawing process. "It is incredibly insidious."

The resolution comes before the Legislature has introduced any new maps and as two lawsuits move forward before the Wisconsin Supreme Court and in federal court.

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The resolution lays out parameters for any maps submitted to the Legislature. The one guideline drawing the most opposition from Democrats and others calls for retaining "as much as possible the core of existing districts, thus maintaining 11 existing communities of interest, and promoting the equal opportunity to vote by minimizing disenfranchisement."

An argument Democrats and voting rights groups make in a federal redistricting lawsuit is that the current Republican-drawn maps should be declared unconstitutional and not used as the starting point for new maps.

Republicans asked the U.S. Supreme Court last week to dismiss the lawsuit.

Wisconsin Supreme Court

Wisconsin Supreme Court

Democrats didn't have the votes to stop the resolution from being adopted Tuesday. The Senate passed it on a party line 19-12 vote, with the Assembly to vote on it later Tuesday.

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said the current districts are so skewed left or right that incumbents care only about avoiding a primary opponent. That leads to extreme legislation from both sides as incumbents try to get further right or left of potential primary challengers, he said.

Republican Kathy Bernier countered that Democrats underestimate voters’ ability to change their minds and Republicans don’t take their constituents for granted.

"We do not get lazy," she said. "And we are accountable."

Facade and steps United States Supreme Court building

The United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Government file photo)

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke has said the resolution was an attempt to be transparent about the parameters for considering maps submitted to the Legislature.

"It’s about continuity of representation," Steineke said. "The parameters of reapportionment have always been the same, trying to keep districts compact, contiguous, keep communities of like interest together."

Republicans are accepting maps from the public until Oct. 15. The Legislature has not said when exactly it will release its plan or vote on it.

An Associated Press analysis found that Republicans won about 16 more U.S. House seats in 2018 and held on to seven more state legislative chambers, including the Wisconsin Assembly, than would have been expected to based on their average share of the vote in congressional districts across the country.


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