MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Monday creating what he promised would be a nonpartisan commission to draw new legislative maps next year for the Legislature to consider, a move Republicans have rejected as a sham.
Even though the Legislature won’t be forced to vote on the maps the commission creates, the Democratic Evers said he hopes it will push them to consider less partisan maps. At the very least, it will create a more public process than in 2011 when Republicans met in secret to draw the maps that were released with little time for public review or input before they were passed.
“People should be able to choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” Evers said at a news conference in his Capitol office where he was surrounded by Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Attorney General Josh Kaul. “Certainly I would hope that they see the light and adopt our maps.”
The Wisconsin Constitution gives the Legislature the power to approve maps every 10 years drawing new boundaries for the state’s congressional and legislative districts. Maps will next be drawn in 2021 following this year’s census, which begins in April. Evers, as governor, can sign them into law or veto them. The executive order he signed does not change that process, but rather creates what a commission to travel the state over the next year to gather input before creating their own maps.
People of the state will be able to see and compare maps from the commission and the Legislature and then determine whether “there’s something wrong with this picture,” Evers said.
Republican legislative leaders have dismissed creation of the commission. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the notion that anything created and backed overwhelmingly by Democrats can’t be nonpartisan. Members of the commission have not yet been named, but Evers said Monday it will be nonpartisan as promised.
“We have 5.5 million people in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “I think we can come up with a bunch who are nonpartisan.”
Members of the commission must come from all eight of the state’s congressional districts and be experts in nonpartisan redistricting. Elected officials, “public officials,” lobbyists and political party officials are prohibited from serving.
The Legislature is currently controlled by Republicans. The makeup of the Legislature that will vote on new maps in 2021 will be determined in November’s elections, but Republicans are expected to maintain their majorities.
A January 2019 Marquette University Law School poll that asked about redistricting showed that 72% of respondents supported having a nonpartisan commission draw the maps. Only 18% thought the Legislature should draw them.
Republicans have rejected past attempts to amend the constitution to create a nonpartisan redistricting process.
The maps drawn in 2011 were challenged as being illegally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, but in similar lawsuits last year ruled that states are free to draw electoral borders as they please, shutting down challenges in federal court.
An Associated Press analysis of the election results showed that Wisconsin’s districts had one of the largest Republican tilts in the nation. The “efficiency gap” analysis, which is intended to flag potential cases of gerrymandering, indicated that in 2018 Democrats would have been expected to win at least one additional U.S. House seat and at least 15 additional state Assembly seats based on their average share of the vote in Wisconsin’s districts. That would have been enough to give Democrats control of the state Assembly and an even partisan split in the state’s congressional delegation.
Republicans hold five of the state’s eight congressional districts, have a 63-36 majority in the Assembly and a 19-14 majority in the Senate.
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