Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Monday creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission that excludes lawmakers, lobbyists and party officials from participating.
The commission, which Evers unveiled in last week’s State of the State address, will consist of members from across the state and present maps to the Legislature for consideration after completion of the 2020 Census.
Evers, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and most of the governor’s cabinet assembled in the Capitol Monday for the executive order requiring the creation of the People’s Maps Commission, which will visit each congressional district in Wisconsin to help create the maps.
“People should be able to choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” Evers said. “I believe when it comes to integrity in the process and fairness of the maps, Wisconsin must look to the people, not to politicians, to assist in drawing maps that are fairly and accurately representing our state.”
Advocates have praised the commission, arguing it will provide transparency and give courts a nonpartisan alternative if the process ends up in litigation. Other experts doubt whether the creation of the commission, which doesn’t change state law, will have much of an effect on how the maps are drawn.
Evers vowed the commission’s map-making process won’t involve lobbyists or secrecy agreements, a reference to the last redistricting process in 2011 when Republicans controlled the Legislature and governor’s office.
At that time, the maps were created in a tightly controlled room at the Madison law office of Michael Best & Friedrich, and Democrats were not allowed to take part in the process. Republican lawmakers were required to sign secrecy oaths to view drafts.
Under those maps, Republicans in the Senate and Assembly have for the most part enjoyed healthy majorities, even when receiving fewer votes statewide.
Evers said the commission will consist of volunteer members. Banned from participation on the commission are elected officials, public officials, lobbyists or political party officials. The commission’s membership will include members from each of the state’s eight congressional districts and experts in nonpartisan redistricting.
The executive order specifies the commission will be required to meet at least once in each congressional district and gather testimony and evidence from members of the public.
The executive order also reiterates the maps the commission produces should be free from partisan bias or advantage, and dictates the maps avoid diluting minority votes; be compact and contiguous; avoid splitting wards and municipalities; retain the core population in each district; maintain traditional communities who share a common identity; and prevent voter disenfranchisement.
Republican leaders have hammered the commission. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, called the commission unconstitutional while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, vowed the GOP will reject the maps and go about their own redistricting process. In a statement Monday, Vos criticized Evers for promoting the redistricting commission so far ahead of the redistricting process.
Kaul argues the commission is constitutional in that it does not take away the Legislature’s authority under Wisconsin law to ultimately decide on which maps to implement. Wisconsin law also allows Evers to veto those maps, which could lead to a protracted court battle.