Proposed decennial political boundaries that have been praised as “fair maps” by Gov. Tony Evers came under fire by several Democratic lawmakers Thursday who said the proposal would diminish Black and Hispanic representation in the Legislature.
The Assembly voted 60-38 along party lines to send GOP-drawn congressional and legislative district maps to Evers, who has already promised to veto the boundaries. Those maps focus on maintaining the core of the existing district boundaries that Republicans drew in secret in 2011 and are regarded by some as among the most gerrymandered in the nation. Ultimately, it’s expected the state’s next 10-year maps will be decided in court.
Maps drawn by the bipartisan People’s Maps Commission would narrow, but still maintain, Republican legislative and congressional delegation control. On Thursday, Republicans introduced the commission’s maps as an amendment to force an up or down vote on the governor’s proposal. The amendment failed 21-77, with 17 of the Assembly’s 38 Democratic lawmakers joining Republicans in opposing the commission’s maps.
Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, D-Milwaukee, blasted the commission’s maps, which she described as “illegal and a perversion of justice that cannot stand.”
In her first speech on the Assembly floor, Ortiz-Velez provided an emotional condemnation of the commission’s maps, which she said fail to meet requirements laid out in the Voting Rights Act, which is intended to make sure minority voters can elect candidates of their choice and have equal representation.
“We deserve to count as well,” Ortiz-Velez said before Thursday’s vote. “You can’t say a map is fair that violates the rights of others by denying them their legally protected rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”
Rep. LaKeshia Myers, D-Milwaukee, said she was “not willing to vote for any map that dilutes and or erases African American and Hispanic representation.”
Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, on Monday joined Republicans in voting against maps drawn by the commission. The state Senate voted 21-12 along party lines in favor of GOP-drawn maps.
Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, who voted in favor of the commission’s maps, described the amendment offered by Republicans to force a vote on the maps as “a ridiculous ploy to divide and play politics.”
With a GOP-backed lawsuit filed with the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court and a similar lawsuit brought by Democrats in federal court, advocates for nonpartisan redistricting have said maps drawn by the commission could serve as a baseline against which to compare the Republican-drawn maps. However, the Legislature’s votes this week against those maps could create challenges for the commission’s proposal in the eventual court battle.
Christopher Ford, chair of the People’s Maps Commission, said during a press conference last week the commission’s final proposal “will perform well for communities of interest and also minority-majority districts.”
Ford said the commission tried to adhere to the Voting Rights Act as much as possible and the Assembly map provides nine “minority opportunity districts.”
Ortiz-Velez said minority-majority districts are protected under the Voting Rights Act, while opportunity districts are not. Ortiz-Velez said she made multiple attempts to contact Evers and the commission on the matter, but said her concerns were “dismissed, gaslighted and ignored.”
Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback said the commission took the Voting Rights Act into account when drafting the proposed maps, adding “we believe the commission’s maps achieve that goal.”
“Members of the Legislature could have submitted feedback to the commission — a few legislators did — and that feedback was considered by the commission along with everyone else’s and without preference for the fact they are sitting legislators in this state,” Cudaback said in an email. “The process worked as it should have — without the undue influence of legislators who stand to benefit by being involved in drawing their own districts.”
Republicans have touted the GOP-drawn maps as an effort to align as closely as possible with existing boundaries, which have helped Republicans hold majorities in the Legislature, while critics have described the proposal as a power grab aimed at holding GOP majorities for the next 10 years.
More than 100 people registered in opposition to the maps during a nearly 10-hour public hearing on the maps last month. Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, were the only two people to speak in favor of the maps during the meeting.
Under the GOP proposal, more than 138,000 voters would be relocated from odd-numbered Senate districts to even-numbered districts. With state senators serving staggered four-year terms, those voters would not be able to vote in a Senate election until 2024.
Under maps drawn by the governor’s commission, more than 520,000 would have to wait until 2024 to vote in a Senate election.
County boards or residents in 56 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have supported resolutions or referendums in favor of independent, nonpartisan redistricting in Wisconsin.
The Legislature must redraw political lines every decade based on the latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The mapmaking process can allow a party in power, even without statewide majority support, to create or increase a legislative majority based on how district lines are drawn.
Republicans often have downplayed concerns about the practice — known as “gerrymandering,” after an early 19th century political cartoon — saying the GOP’s success is the result of strong candidates and Democrats being clustered in cities.
According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, the proposed GOP-drawn maps would see six incumbent Republicans in the 99-member Assembly facing off in newly drawn districts.
Sexual assault evidence bills
The Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed a pair of bipartisan bills that would create protocols for collecting and tracking sexual assault evidence kits, which both passed the Senate back in March.
One bill would require health professionals to alert police within 72 hours after a sexual assault kit has been collected. Police would have to send the kits to the state Crime Laboratory within 14 days.
The second bill would require the state Department of Justice to create a database for victims to track the status of their kits. Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said an amendment to the bill removed $400,000 initially attached to the legislation to create the database after federal grant funding was secured.
The bills head to Evers’ desk for final approval.