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WISCONSIN | REDISTRICTING

Gov. Tony Evers submits new maps after Supreme Court's 'least change' decision

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Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday proposed a new set of 10-year political maps that would change boundaries even less than the Republican proposal, while narrowing but not reversing the state’s GOP legislative majorities.

Evers’ maps come two weeks after the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided 4-3 to follow Republicans’ request for a “least-change” approach to creating new maps. Such an approach made the boundaries drawn by the governor’s People’s Maps Commission, which he created last year to provide a citizen-led alternative to the Republican maps, unlikely to pass muster because they deviated heavily from current maps.

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

“The maps I’m submitting today are an improvement from the gerrymandered maps we have and the Republican maps I vetoed last month,” Evers said in a statement. “But I want to be clear: The people of Wisconsin overwhelmingly support nonpartisan redistricting in this state, and I will continue to fight for a nonpartisan redistricting process as long as I’m governor.”

By applying the average of six statewide elections since 2016, Evers’ new maps would elect 44 Democrats and 55 Republicans in the Assembly, and 13 Democrats and 20 Republicans in the Senate. In Congress, Republicans would win five seats to Democrats’ three, according to Evers’ office.

Republicans currently hold a 61-38 majority in the Assembly and a 21-12 majority in the Senate. Five of the state’s eight congressional districts are held by Republicans.

The governor’s Assembly map would move 14.21% of the population in the Assembly, compared with 15.84% in the GOP proposal. Evers’ Senate map moves 7.83% of the population, compared with 7.79% in Republicans’ map. For Congress, 5.5% of the population would be moved under Evers’ proposal, compared with 6.52% under maps drawn by Republicans, according to information provided by Evers’ office.

Evers said his maps also comply with the federal Voting Rights Act and create a seventh Black majority-minority Assembly district. He also said his maps are “significantly less gerrymandered than the state’s current maps and the maps proposed by the Legislature.”

Evers vetoed GOP-drawn maps in mid-November and has championed boundaries drawn by the People’s Maps Commission, but those maps have failed to get universal support among legislative Democrats, with some criticizing the boundaries for potentially diminishing Black and Hispanic representation in the Legislature.

“Now Governor Evers has abandoned his campaign rhetoric promising for independently drawn maps to rapidly and secretly draw his own rigged maps without public input,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said in a joint statement. “The hypocrisy of the governor is impossible to ignore.”

Head to head

Evers’ new maps would see six incumbent Republicans in the 99-member Assembly facing off in newly drawn districts. Those include Sens. Alberta Darling, of River Hills, and Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield, in the proposed new 8th Senate District; Reps. Daniel Knodl, of Germantown, and Barbara Dittrich, of Oconomowoc, in the new 24th Assembly District; and Reps. Chuck Wichgers, of Muskego, and Cody Horlacher, of Mukwonago, in the new 83rd Assembly District.

Proposed GOP-drawn maps would also include three pairings of incumbent Republicans, all in the Assembly. Reps. Joe Sanfelippo and Mike Kuglitsch, both of New Berlin, would compete in the new 15th District; Ken Skowronski, of Franklin, and Wichgers would both run in the new 82nd District; and Shannon Zimmerman, of River Falls, and Warren Petryk, of the town of Washington, would face off in the new 93rd District.

Under Evers’ proposal, more than 138,000 voters would be relocated from odd-numbered Senate districts to even-numbered districts, according to a review of Evers’ maps by Jeanne Clelland, a professor in the University of Colorado Boulder’s department of mathematics.

The GOP proposal would move a similar number of voters — about 100 fewer — from odd-numbered districts to even-numbered districts. With state senators serving staggered four-year terms, those voters would not be able to vote in a state Senate election until 2024.

Evers’ Senate map would split 45 counties and 118 municipalities, compared with 42 counties and 28 municipalities in the GOP-drawn map. For the Assembly, both maps would split 53 counties, while Evers’ proposal would split 174 municipalities, compared with 48 split municipalities in the Republican map.

Congressional boundaries proposed by the governor would split 12 counties and 47 municipalities, compared with 10 counties and 24 municipalities under the GOP proposal.

Deadline nears

Wednesday is the deadline for parties to submit map proposals. The state Supreme Court plans to conduct a hearing and take arguments on the matter starting Jan. 18. The hearing process could take several days.

The court’s conservative majority also said it will not consider partisan balance when drawing legislative maps, and instead ruled that, like the U.S. Supreme Court, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has no standard to judge whether maps present an unfair partisan advantage.

“Where does it end?” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. “Those decisions were so extreme and reduced the accountability of how a democracy works that they could do this into perpetuity.”

Republicans have said maintaining the core of existing boundaries disenfranchises the fewest number of voters, but Democrats and proponents of nonpartisan legislative boundaries have criticized the proposal as an attempt to bake in GOP-friendly districts for the state’s next 10-year maps.

Sachin Chheda, director at the Fair Elections Project, said in a statement the court’s decision to follow a least-change criteria is “total bunk and not supported by statute or the constitution.”

While Chheda agreed with Evers that the court should follow a nonpartisan process to drawing maps, he added that maps proposed Wednesday by the governor are “fairer, more compliant with state & federal law and redistricting criteria, and even more compliant with the ridiculous ‘least changes’ criteria than the rigged Republican proposal.”

“If the state high Court rejects these maps in favor of a more egregious gerrymander, it will be yet another proof point that they are more concerned with politics than the law,” Chheda added.

Kaul ‘hopeful’

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul said on Tuesday the Supreme Court’s ruling dealt a serious blow to those seeking a drastic change from maps Republicans drew in secret in 2011, but added it’s still possible the next maps deviate away from existing boundaries, which have allowed Republicans to hold sizable majorities in the state Senate and Assembly for the last decade.

“The more we can move from those kinds of maps to maps that are more competitive and are fair, the better,” Kaul said. “So I remain hopeful that the maps will improve from the current maps, but — because of the least-change approach being applied — we’re not going to be able … to get from where we currently are to maps that are truly fair.”

Another lawsuit in federal court also lingers over the state’s redistricting process. The U.S. Supreme Court last week allowed the suit to proceed, denying a Republican request to dismiss the case.

The court earlier this month issued a stay in the Democratic-backed case pending further action by the state Supreme Court. It’s unclear if the federal court would take up the matter after the state Supreme Court comes to a final ruling.

Federal law

Whether the federal court takes up the case hinges on whether the maps drawn by the state Supreme Court comply with requirements in federal law, such as the Voting Rights Act.

Kaul also noted that the Freedom to Vote Act, which has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, could have implications on congressional redistricting, if the measure is signed into law. The proposal includes provisions to prevent gerrymandering, among other election-related measures.

Evers on Monday joined 16 other Democratic governors in a letter to Senate leadership urging passage of the bill.

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.

The 2020 election is over. Here’s what happened (and what didn’t)

The 2020 election was “the most secure in American history,” according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which coordinates the nation’s election infrastructure.

While some voters risked going to prison by attempting to vote twice or in the name of a dead relative, as happens in any election, no evidence of widespread fraud has ever been produced in Wisconsin or elsewhere.

Yet, many continue to question some of the practices clerks relied on to encourage eligible voters to cast ballots and make sure their votes were counted amid the first election in more than 100 years held during a pandemic.

The Wisconsin State Journal has covered every twist and turn of this debate in scores of stories. But here are a few that offered some broader context about what happened, and didn't happen, in the election of 2020.

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The state has multiple, overlapping safeguards aimed at preventing ineligible voters from casting ballots, tampering with the ballots or altering vote totals.

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Nothing in the emails suggests there were problems with the election that contributed in any meaningful way to Trump's 20,682-vote loss to Joe Biden.

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"Despite concerns with statewide elections procedures, this audit showed us that the election was largely safe and secure," Sen. Rob Cowles said Friday.

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The grants were provided to every Wisconsin municipality that asked for them, and in the amounts they asked for. 

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"Application of the U.S. Department of Justice guidance among the clerks in Wisconsin is not uniform," the memo says.

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“To put it simply, we did not break the law,” the chair of the Elections Commission said.

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The memo states that state law gives the Audit Bureau complete access to all records during an audit investigation and federal law and guidance does not prohibit an election official from handing over election records.

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Drop boxes were used throughout Wisconsin, including in areas where Trump won the vast majority of counties.

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"I don't think that you instill confidence in a process by kind of blindly assuming there's nothing to see here," WILL president and general counsel Rick Esenberg said.

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