Republicans vote to preserve gerrymandered maps for another year

By: - June 23, 2021 3:17 pm

Demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, Wisconsin’s gerrymandering case. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

A GOP bill extending the redistricting timeline and keeping current, gerrymandered maps in place into 2022 — including potentially for another legislative election — was passed by the state Senate Wednesday, over Democratic lawmakers’ objections. 

The bill was unveiled on a Friday before a Monday, June 10 public hearing, surprising even groups that pay close attention to redistricting and push for fair maps coming out of the current census.

The last time the maps were drawn, 10 years ago, they were among the most gerrymandered maps in the country, according to redistricting experts.

It’s those maps the authors of the bill hope to keep active for several additional years, citing the fact that census data is coming in late this year.

The bill ostensibly was necessary because the counties are supposed to finish their maps for county supervisors no later than July 1, and municipalities within 60 days after them for aldermanic districts, but the federal census data — which normally arrives in March — has been delayed until mid-August or September.

There was no author on the bill, but a review of the files used to draft it showed that the mystery bill was requested by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, in consultation with Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu’s office and Republican allies linked to the Wisconsin Counties Association. In committee, Republicans deemed the rush necessary, but drafters’ notes also revealed that the bill was requested three months earlier and was completed before the end of April.

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“This bill is problematic,” said Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I think it’s worth calling out AB 369 for the Trojan horse that it is … an attempt to delay map drawing in our state. If there’s something we’re going to do around redistricting let’s make sure that there’s a fair process.”

Larson added that there are other ways to help local governments meet deadlines with “a lighter touch” rather than having one party hide redistricting from the public, as it did in 2011.

Sen. Jeff Smith

Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) accused Republicans of using the bill to “gain a partisan political advantage” and advocated for nonpartisan redistricting to create fair maps, citing Oregon as a good example of how opposing parties can make that happen jointly.

“I don’t want to go down the path of how horribly the Trump administration bungled the census in 2020 and caused the delays that we’re now seeing, because it won’t do any good to relive that nightmare,” said Smith. “The public has demanded that redistricting be done in the light of day. Instead Speaker Robin Vos’ staff worked with private attorneys once again to draft a bill in secret.”

No Republicans spoke to defend the bill, which did not have any Senate sponsors. Nonetheless, it passed the Senate on a straight party-line vote 18 – 12.

Fair Elections Project Director Sachin Chheda released a statement following the vote accusing Senate Republicans of failing to resolve the concerns of local government.  

“A fair, transparent, bottom-up redrawing process can be accomplished in weeks, but legislative Republicans would rather put our election timeline at risk here in Wisconsin and unconstitutionally deprive Wisconsinites of their right to vote,” said Chheda.

He called on Gov. Tony Evers to veto the bill.

In other redistricting news on Wednesday, an appeals court rejected the request from LeMahieu and Vos to put a hold on an April 29 circuit court judge’s ruling that they had illegally hired attorneys to represent them in any potential challenges tied to redistricting. The judge voided the contracts and barred any payments. The two leaders allocated more than $1 million for the attorneys from taxpayer money.

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.

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