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Tony Evers vetoes GOP-drawn maps, setting up court battle over next 10-year boundaries
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LEGISLATURE | REDISTRICTING

Tony Evers vetoes GOP-drawn maps, setting up court battle over next 10-year boundaries

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As promised, Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday vetoed decennial legislative and congressional boundaries proposed by state Republicans, setting the stage for a court battle over Wisconsin’s next 10-year maps.

The Democratic governor blasted the GOP proposal in a video message, calling them “gerrymandering 2.0.” The GOP-drawn maps, which passed the Republican-controlled state Assembly and Senate last week, would largely maintain 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.

“Elected officials shouldn’t be able to depend on the comfort of their seats instead of the quality of their work, and the gerrymandered maps Republicans passed a decade ago have enabled legislators to safely ignore the people who elected them,” Evers said. “And these maps here, they’re more of the same.”

Lawmakers are at work drawing political maps for the next decade.

A GOP-backed lawsuit has been filed with the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court and a similar lawsuit was brought by Democrats in federal court, meaning the final decision over the maps will almost certainly be made in court.

Advocates for nonpartisan redistricting have said maps drawn by the governor’s “People’s Maps Commission” could serve as a baseline against which to compare the Republican-drawn maps. However, the Legislature’s votes last week against those maps could create challenges for the commission’s proposal in the eventual court battle.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday issued an order that it intends to issue a decision “on or about November 30” to determine: what factors should be considered when evaluating or creating new maps; if the court should adopt legislative Republicans’ call for maps that use a “least-change” approach; and if the partisan makeup of districts should be considered in the new maps.

Parties in the lawsuit have until Dec. 15 to submit map proposals and the court plans to conduct a hearing and take arguments starting on Jan. 18. The court indicated the hearing process could take several days.

“This process now heads to the courts, where we hope the voice of Wisconsin voters will be fairly heard and representation for all will be achieved,” Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, said in a statement.

Evers had indicated earlier this year he would not sign the Republican maps and called on the Legislature to take up maps drawn by the commission he created last year. While Republicans hold majorities in the state Senate and Assembly, the party would need to secure Democratic votes in order to reach the two-thirds majority needed to override Evers’ vetoes.

Adam Gibbs, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the office would not have a comment on the governor’s vetoes Thursday. The office of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, did not respond to a request for comment.

GOP-drawn maps passed both chambers along party lines, 60-38 in the Assembly and 21-12 in the Senate. Republicans in both chambers forced an up or down vote on maps drawn by the governor’s People’s Maps Commission. Those maps failed 22-11 in the Senate, with Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, joining Republicans in opposition. The split among Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly was more pronounced, where the commission’s maps were rejected 21-77, with 17 of the Assembly’s 38 Democratic members joining Republicans in opposing the maps.

Several Assembly Democrats last week took aim at the commission’s maps, which they said would diminish Black and Hispanic representation in the Legislature and may even break laws set forth in the Voting Rights Act relating to minority-majority districts.

Officials with the commission have said their maps adhere to the Voting Rights Act as much as possible and the Assembly map provides nine “minority opportunity districts.” However, critics have said minority-majority districts are protected under the Voting Rights Act, while opportunity districts are not.

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.

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