Gov. Tony Evers will include a proposal in his first state budget to put Wisconsin's redistricting process in the hands of a nonpartisan board rather than partisan elected officials.
Evers' proposal will resemble the "Iowa model," where a nonpartisan staff draws the state's electoral maps and lawmakers vote to approve them, and is modeled from legislation previously introduced by Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay.
Evers is set to deliver his first budget address Thursday evening, but has shared some details from the spending plan with reporters in the weeks leading up to it. His redistricting proposal was first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal and then shared with other reporters.
"The people should get to choose their elected officials, not the other way around," Evers said in a statement. "By creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission in Wisconsin, we’re making sure that when we’re redrawing district maps in 2021, we’re putting people before politics."
Under Evers' proposal, the state's nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau would be given the responsibility of drawing electoral boundaries at the direction of a new, nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. The budget would allocate $10,000 over the two-year budget period for LRB to take over the map-drawing process.
Lawmakers would vote on the maps, but the changes the Legislature could make would be limited.
The LRB would not be allowed to use voting patterns, party information, incumbent residence information or demographic information to draw the maps, except where required by law. Districts would be required to be made as compact and contiguous as possible.
The Redistricting Advisory Commission would be composed of five members: one person each appointed by the Assembly Speaker and minority leader and the Senate majority and minority leaders, and a chairperson chosen by the other four commissioners.
At the time of appointment, commissioners must be eligible Wisconsin voters, and cannot hold a partisan public or political party office. Commissioners could not be employed by the Legislature or Congress and could not be related to or employed by a member of the Legislature or Congress.
The commission would be required to release its redistricting bill — including related data and maps — as soon as practicable after sending it to the Legislature, and would be required to hold a public hearing in each congressional district.
In 2016, a panel of federal judges ruled that Wisconsin's maps — drawn by Republicans in 2011 — unconstitutionally advantaged the GOP and ordered new maps be drawn before the November 2018 election. But in June 2018, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the federal level. A new version of that lawsuit now sits before a different three-judge panel, awaiting a July trial.
A Marquette University Law School poll released last month found that 72 percent of voters would like legislative redistricting to be handled by a nonpartisan commission, while 18 percent said it should be left to the Legislature and governor as under current law.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has advocated for keeping the state's current approach, as dictated by the state constitution, arguing no person or commission can truly act independently without partisan bias.
"I certainly believe the current process is the best way because it’s the most democratic," Vos said in October.
Sachin Chheda, chair of the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, praised Evers' proposal.
"This decision gives us a chance to have representative democracy again in Wisconsin," Chheda said in a statement. "Governor Evers has heeded our call for moving nonpartisan redistricting reform forward, and now the Legislature must follow suit. If they aren’t afraid of the voters, they won’t need to keep rigging the maps."