As the Dane County Board prepares for redistricting in 2021, supervisors are leaning toward having community members take on more power in the process than they have in decades.
The Redistricting Subcommittee of the Executive Committee of the County Board is tentatively recommending the county establish an impartial redistricting commission consisting of only citizen members — no elected officials.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said District 33 Supervisor Jenni Dye, who chairs the redistricting subcommittee. “We need to have a process where the people of Dane County are sure that they are electing their supervisors and not that supervisors are choosing their voters.”
Redistricting occurs every 10 years, with the county redrawing district lines for electing County Board supervisors based on census results and population shifts. There are currently 37 districts and supervisors, with an average of about 13,000 residents per district.
The census will take place in 2020, with the county receiving population block data in mid-April of 2021. It will then have 60 days to draw up and approve a tentative supervisory district plan. Municipalities will then adjust ward boundaries accordingly and submit those to the County Board, with a final plan adopted in Oct. 2021.
In past decades, Dye said, there has been more involvement by County Board supervisors in drawing the new maps each time — a trend that raises concerns for some about how impartial the process is.
In 1991, the Dane County Regional Planning Commission developed the redistricting plan for approval by the board. In 2001, an advisory committee comprised of seven non-supervisors and two ex-officio supervisors drew up the boundaries with the Executive Committee. But then the County Board moved a different map and made amendments on the Board floor, after which the county executive vetoed the map. A second plan was prepared and the county approved and finalized it in the fall.
In 2011, the work went to a redistricting subcommittee consisting of five board members and two citizen members, as well as two non-voting board members and two non-voting citizen members.
Now, Dye said, they’d like to go back to having less supervisor involvement, in part based on a 2014 referendum in which more than 80 percent of Dane County voters favored requiring a nonpartisan means for redistricting.
For 2021, the tentative plan is to have an impartial commission consisting of nine or 11 citizen members, including representatives from non-Madison cities and villages, towns and the city of Madison with an emphasis on gender, racial, ethnic and geographic diversity. The County Board would then still have to approve the commission's recommended plan.
A public hearing on the recommendations will take place on Monday, Nov. 30, at 5:30 p.m. in the City-County Building and the county is also soliciting feedback on its new online forum.
Dye said the hope is to get feedback on the set of recommendations, with finalized recommendations going to the County Board as an ordinance amendment either late this year or early 2016.