Today, in a rally on the state capitol steps, lawmakers again called for a non-partisan redistricting process
The coalition of Democratic lawmakers, joined by two Republicans, are resurfacing legislation that would let the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau draw the next decade’s electoral maps — instead of the Republican-controlled legislature.
An identical set of proposals failed in the legislature last year.
This legislation is timed as the next fight over the state’s political maps heats up. And the fight over redistricting is likely to be as political as it was ten years ago, when a challenge to Republican-drawn maps, drawn behind closed doors and skewed to break up Democratic districts, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
That case was finally resolved in 2018, though the nation’s high court sidestepped any underlying issues of gerrymandering.
Sachin Chheda was one of the people who originally launched that case. Chedda, chair of the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, said at today’s rally that gerrymandered maps amplify partisan paralysis in the state capitol building.
“The way that our elections operate, the way that our politics operate, has changed,” he said. “Because now legislators aren’t accountable to the people, they’re accountable to their legislative leadership.”
The legislation was introduced by Democratic Senator Jeff Smith and Representative Deb Andraca. Last November, Andraca flipped her district, located just north of Milwaukee, from red to blue — unseating a 14-year incumbent in the process.
“I am one of just three legislators that have flipped an assembly seat from one party to another in a decade,” Andraca said today. “Three seats out of 99. Why has one party been able to hold power for so long? It’s because of the maps.”
The legislation currently has two Republican cosponsors, Representatives Todd Novak of Dodgeville and Travis Tranel of Cuba City. But to get through the legislature, it’s going to need broad Republican support — and that support won’t come easily.
On Friday, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court shot down a request by the state’s GOP leadership to fast-track redistricting legislation. That would have allowed the state’s Republicans to file all cases directly with the conservative-leaning high court, skirting lower courts and federal judges.
And three weeks ago, a circuit court rebuffed Republican leaders’ moves to hire external, private attorneys for potential redistricting battles. According to Wisconsin Public Radio, a Dane County Circuit Judge held that hiring attorneys ahead of a lawsuit was premature — a decision Republicans are appealing.
The legislation, attorneys, and court decisions are just a preamble. Wisconsin is still missing a critical key for the redistricting process: detailed population reports from the U.S. Census.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and interference by former President Donald Trump, resulted in an abrupt, early end to last year’s census. As a result, Wisconsin may not have full population data until the end of summer.
Barry Burden is the director of the Elections Research Center at UW-Madison. Last month he told WORT that the delayed results will put a timer on redistricting — and the inevitable legal battles to follow.
“Surprisingly, Wisconsin law doesn’t actually specify a timeline for how quickly the state legislature should act, Burden said. “But, practically speaking, people who are thinking about being candidates for office in 2022 will want to know fairly early next year what district they live in and what the districts look like…So although there aren’t formal deadlines, you get a sense that by late-winter, early-spring of 2022 this needs to be wrapping up in order for there to be an orderly process for the fall elections.”
Burden said that, if that informal deadline is missed, it’s possible that next year’s midterm elections will proceed with Wisconsin’s current district lines.
(PHOTO: Deb Andraca adresses a fair maps rally / Jonah Chester)