Gov. Tony Evers gives his State of the State speech 1/12/21 (screenshot via YouTube)
Gov. Tony Evers submitted new redistricting maps to the Wisconsin Supreme Court Wednesday, which the governor’s office says are designed to comply with the Court’s order that new maps must use a “least change” approach to redistricting.
Gov. Evers had earlier advocated for the maps created by the nonpartisan People’s Maps Commission. But on Nov. 30 the Court adopted Republican legislative leaders’ position that new maps should deviate as little as possible from the current voting maps, which a federal court called one of the most partisan gerrymandered maps in the nation.
The state Supreme Court majority also declared that it will not take the partisan makeup of new districts into consideration in drawing new maps. It ordered all parties to the lawsuit over the new maps to submit draft maps that account for population shifts in the 2020 census, but otherwise make minimal changes to current legislative and congressional districts.
Since Evers could not submit the People’s Maps Commission maps under the terms of the court order, he explained in a statement Wednesday, he submitted new, “least-change” maps that “meet or exceed requirements established by the Court,” and “make significant improvements compared to the maps enacted in 2011 and the maps passed by the Legislature in November,” which Evers vetoed last month.
“I urged the Wisconsin Supreme Court to consider the maps prepared by a nonpartisan redistricting commission, and it’s unfortunate the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected those maps and decided they will only consider maps that make minimal changes from the gerrymandered maps we have now,” Evers said in a statement. “The maps I’m submitting today are an improvement from the gerrymandered maps we have and the Republican maps I vetoed last month. 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.”
In a statement on the maps Evers submitted Wednesday, the governor’s office points out that Evers’ maps make fewer changes overall than the maps passed by the Legislature, moving only 14.21% of the population for the Assembly map (compared to the Legislature’s maps, which move 15.84% of the population), 7.83% for the population for the Senate map (similar to the Legislature’s 7.79%), and only 5.50% of the population for the congressional map (compared to the Legislature’s 6.52%). Evers’ least-change Assembly map makes no changes to 13 Assembly districts, the governor’s office added, while the Legislature’s maps made changes to all 99 Assembly districts.
Evers’ maps also fully comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, he said — a contentious issue among Democrats, some of whom criticized the first draft maps created by the People’s Maps Comission for not complying with the Voting Rights Act requirement that communities that have historically faced discrimination be given an equal opportunity to choose who represents them. The People’s Maps Comission made revisions and ultimately released maps the commissioners said complied with the Voting Right Act, and that were given an “A” grade for partisan fairness by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
But even with the revisions, a number of Milwaukee-area Democrats including Sen. Lena Taylor, Rep. LaKeshia Myers and Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, objected to the PMC’s maps, saying the proposed maps ignored the input of legislators and disregarded the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
The “least change” maps Evers submitted to the Supreme Court comply with the Voting Rights Act, the governor’s office stated, adding a seventh Black majority-minority Assembly district to the existing six districts and maintaining the current map’s two Black majority-minority Senate districts and two majority-Hispanic voting age population Assembly districts.
In addition, according to the governor’s office, Evers’ maps create more compact districts than the current maps and split fewer counties.
“While the Court stated that it would not consider whether a map was fair, the governor’s maps are significantly less gerrymandered than the state’s current maps and the maps proposed by the Legislature,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “The governor’s maps have more competitive districts, with two competitive congressional districts, three Senate districts, and eight Assembly districts, which are all highly competitive. By contrast, the maps proposed by the Legislature have only one competitive congressional district, one competitive Senate district, and three competitive Assembly districts.”
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the Legislature’s proposed maps a grade of F for partisan fairness, noting that they give Republicans a significant advantage. Had they been in effect for the last election, the Legislature’s maps would have given more than 60% of legislative seats to Republicans — two more seats than the current maps. Six of eight congressional districts would lean Republican under the Legislature’s plan, compared to the current five. The maps also got an F for non-compact districts and for splitting up more counties than is typical
Evers’ maps also give Republicans an electoral advantage, just a smaller one. According to the governor’s office, an analysis of six statewide elections since 2016 showed that, under Evers’ maps, 44 Democrats and 55 Republicans would win Assembly seats, 13 Democrats and 20 Republicans would be elected to the state Senate, and three Democrats and five Republicans would be elected to Congress.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said of the new Evers maps, “Bipartisan supermajorities rejected the governor’s People’s Maps Commission (PMC) maps, the PMC failed. 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. The hypocrisy of the governor is impossible to ignore.”
Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which opposes partisan gerrymandering nationwide, called Evers’ maps “fairer, more compliant with state and federal law and redistricting and even more compliant with the ridiculous ‘least changes’ criteria than the rigged Republican proposal.”
“The ‘least-changes’ criteria is total bunk and not supported by statute or the constitution,” Chheda said in a statement. “It was wholly made up by the ultra-partisan Supreme Court majority in order to help their political overlords, Robin Vos and Devin LeMahieu. We agree with the governor that the Court should be using a non-partisan and fair process to draw maps, not just doing the bidding of their right-wing political allies.”
“If the state high Court rejects these maps in favor of a more egregious gerrymander,” Chheda added, “it will be yet another proof point that they are more concerned with politics than the law.”
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