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Editorial: Evers should never hesitate to uncap the veto pen in defense of fair maps and democracy

Editorial: Evers should never hesitate to uncap the veto pen in defense of fair maps and democracy

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It’s not hard to draw fair election districts.

It’s hard to draw gerrymandered election districts.

Gerrymandering, the process by which politicians warp election maps in order to protect themselves and their partisan allies while disempowering their rivals, is complicated. Map drawers must go to great lengths in order to assure that politicians and parties that are unpopular can “win.”

So, of course, hyper-partisan Republicans in the state Legislature — who have relied on gerrymandered district lines to stay in power for the past decade — are very enthusiastic about dragging out the processes of drawing new federal, state, county and municipal district lines.

They have developed a number of vehicles for complicating these processes, and the months to come will undoubtedly be challenging for Wisconsinites who are enthusiastic about representative democracy.

Responsible legislators and activists with groups such as the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Common Cause in Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters have their work cut out for them. But the good news is that Gov. Tony Evers is on their side. And he has a powerful veto pen.

He had to uncap it last week after the Republican-controlled state Assembly and state Senate approved Assembly Bill 369, which would have required county and municipal governments to delay redrawing maps for county board and city council elections until after the 2022 spring election cycle.

Evers vetoed the bill because it would have mandated delays in the development of new maps for city council elections in cities across the state — including Dane County, Madison, Middleton, Monona and other communities — until April of 2023. At the same time, it would have delayed county board elections until April of 2024. The problem, as the governor explained, is that, “this bill would result in local elections occurring for one or two more years under old district lines that were created as part of the same process that resulted in some of the most gerrymandered congressional and legislative seats in the country. To deny Wisconsinites … lawfully reapportioned local districts, even temporarily, is unjust and undemocratic.”

The governor is right.

This veto is appropriate and necessary.

Assembly Bill 369 had its genesis in concerns about the delay in the delivery of the U.S. Census Bureau data that will be used to draw county and city maps. The data is supposed to arrive in August, which is well beyond the traditional July 1 deadline for developing tentative maps for county supervisory districts. The delay is frustrating, but it does not have to prevent the drawing of new maps in time for county and municipal elections in the spring of 2022.

Evers recognized this in his veto statement, in which he explained: “I object to the way (the bill) seeks to address this issue. In attempting to solve one problem, the bill creates a larger one. The bill creates too great a delay in creating the new maps. This will result in malapportioned maps that do not accurately reflect current populations, which violates the constitutional principle of one person, one vote.”

Evers says: “I will not support legislation that deprives people of their voice in the democratic process. There were ways to address the census data delay that would not risk malapportioned maps. The bill could have waived the July 1 deadline and made other changes to help municipalities expedite their redistricting efforts.”

The governor is right, and legislators need to recognize this reality. Democrats and responsible Republicans should unite in opposing any effort to override Evers’ veto. They should move immediately to develop legislation that follow’s the governor’s suggestions for waiving the July I deadline and that provides the resources, support and flexibility that is necessary to help counties and municipalities draw fair and democratic maps in time for next spring’s elections.

County and municipal officials should let legislators know that this is urgent legislation. They should, as well, prepare to draw maps as quickly as the census data is available. That will be challenging in some communities, but not impossible.

Officials can speed the process up by involving citizens now in discussions about redistricting. Where town hall meetings — in person or virtual — can be put together, they should be. At the same time, county boards and city councils can set up the committees that will be needed to start drawing maps — and they can identify the staffers who will provide technical assistance to the map drawers.

The voters have a role to play as well. They need to get engaged with redistricting processes at the local and state levels. If officials are dragging their feet, citizens need to pressure them to act. If officials are making excuses for not getting new maps developed, citizens need to make it clear to those officials that drawing fair maps is easy.

Indeed, by getting fair maps drawn quickly, and holding elections based on those maps, cities and counties can show legislators how it is done.

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