Once every ten years, in line with returns from the U.S. census, governmental bodies across Wisconsin redraw state and local district lines. Ahead of the process, Dane County is asking residents to weigh in on its redistricting efforts.
Under state law, counties are required to consider “communities of interest” when redrawing supervisory districts. But, as senior planner Brian Standing said at yesterday’s meeting of the county’s redistricting commission, the law is vague on what exactly that means.
“The problem is that there aren’t a lot of very good definitions on what that is. What is a community of interest, and how do you define it,” he says. “The best way to answer that is to get the public to tell us what they think their community is.”
To answer that question, the county is partnering with Representable, a free mapping tool, to gather input from Dane County residents on their communities.
The program asks residents to provide a broad swath of information — from cultural interests you feel represent your community to economic and environmental concerns facing your neighborhood.
“Representable is a software tool that would allow people to define what their community is,” Standing says. “The places you go on a regular basis, the people you interact with and then put that in a map and submit that to the redistricting commission.”
Dane County’s Redistricting Commission was first created in 2016. The non-partisan, citizen-led body is tasked with recommending district lines to the county’s Board of Supervisors.
Commissioner Nakia Wiley expressed concerns that the project, as well as the county’s other outreach efforts, may not reach Dane County’s disenfranchised communities — potentially cutting them out of the redistricting process.
“I just fear that we’re going to get maps from a particular group of people who are already in the know, they’ve probably been doing it for years — and then what results are we going to have to submit? That’s my huge concern,” Wiley says.
Exact data from last year’s census — which was hindered by the pandemic and meddling from the Trump administration — isn’t expected to arrive until August. The commission, and other governments from state to municipal, need that info before redrawing district lines.
Typically by this point in a redistricting year, the county would be essentially done with the process. But, under the current schedule, Dane County won’t wrap up redistricting until December or January.
Last month, the Wisconsin state legislature passed a bill that would allow cities and counties to delay finalizing district lines until after the spring 2022 election. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the delayed approval means that new, local maps wouldn’t go into effect until spring 2023 at the earliest.
That bill is currently with Governor Tony Evers, who has not indicated whether or not he’ll sign it.
PHOTO: Jonah Chester