Republican lawmakers on Thursday introduced a joint resolution calling for the state’s next political maps to retain the core of existing districts, a move that has angered Democrats, who say it would allow Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps to persist.
The joint resolution, scheduled for a vote next week, provides a broad outline of the principles Republicans want to use when drawing the Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts Wisconsin will use for the next decade.
The resolution by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, would call for the maps to “retain as much as possible the core of existing districts, thus maintaining existing communities of interest, and promoting the equal opportunity to vote by minimizing disenfranchisement due to staggered Senate terms.”
Some of the principles Republicans outlined in their resolution are spelled out clearly in the law, such as maintaining equal district population, while others, such as retaining core existing districts, are not.
Republicans have indicated they don’t think the resolution has the force of law, but will guide GOP lawmakers as they draw the state’s next political maps.
Every 10 years, the Legislature is tasked with drawing Wisconsin’s new congressional and legislative voting district lines to be used for the next 10 years. The lines are based on census data that shows population changes in neighborhoods, cities and counties since 2010.
The U.S. Census Bureau delivered detailed 2020 population data in August.
March 15 is the statutory deadline for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to notify county clerks of which offices will be voted on in the November 2022 election and where information on district boundaries can be found. An attorney representing the GOP Legislature told a panel of federal judges earlier this week that lawmakers could deliver maps past that deadline if needed.
Wisconsin’s current political maps are regarded by some to be among the most gerrymandered in the nation. In 2011, Republicans, with full control of state government, were able to draw maps that delivered significant Republican majorities in the Senate and Assembly for most of the past decade. Republicans, however, contend that their maps stem from the fact that Democrats are increasingly concentrated in urban areas while Republicans are more evenly distributed geographically.
Doug Poland, an elections attorney who is representing nonprofit organizations in a redistricting lawsuit backed by Democrats, took issue with Republicans’ desire to retain core existing districts this year because the maps they drew a decade ago with full control of state government were a significant departure from the 2002 maps drawn by federal courts.
The federal court at the time noted that only 323,026 people needed to be moved from one Assembly district to another in order to equalize the populations numerically. The GOP’s 2011 maps, however, moved more than seven times that number: 2,357,592 people.
Only 231,341 people needed to be moved from one state Senate district to another in order to create equal districts based upon the 2002 maps drawn by federal courts, but the GOP’s 2011 maps moved 1,205,216 people, more than five times as many.
Democrats are already concerned that the resolution would make Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps the starting point in the map-drawing process.
“This is a clear statement by Republicans that their goal is to ensure the drastic changes they made ten years ago persist, so they can continue their guaranteed majorities for another decade,” Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said in a statement. “Since 2011, Republicans have relied on gerrymandered maps to ignore the will of the voters on the important issues facing Wisconsin, undermining the accountability that comes with a democratic system.”
This year, Republican lawmakers who are responsible for passing a new set of decennial political maps still control the Legislature, however, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers could veto them. Republicans don’t have enough votes to override his vetoes without Democratic support.
Evers has created a commission to create an alternative set of maps for the Legislature or courts to consider, something that is not mentioned in the GOP’s list of redistricting principles. Republicans, however, have invited the commission to provide its maps for consideration by GOP lawmakers.
The joint resolution would also call for the maps Republicans will draw to promote continuity of representation.
Otherwise, the resolution calls for the maps to comply with federal and state law, to create districts with equal or near equal population and create districts that are compact and legally contiguous.