Republicans continue to criticize the nonpartisan People’s Maps Commission draft of state assembly, senate and congressional maps, building to a redistricting situation that will likely involve courts settling disputes over the maps. 

Gov. Tony Evers said he created the People’s Maps Commission to ensure partisan fairness during the redistricting process. Their draft of the maps, released by the commission in late September, was based on public feedback from thousands of Wisconsinites in public hearings. But Republicans who currently control the state legislature have criticized the draft, calling it “unconstitutional.”

The GOP-controlled state Assembly and Senate passed a resolution Sept. 28 endorsing the state’s current political maps as the basis for the next decade’s. The Senate voted 19-12 to approve the resolution.

Though the maps drafted would still give Republicans an advantage over Democrats, University of Wisconsin American politics professor David Canon said it is not surprising how the scenario has played out.

“If you look at the relationship between the governor and state legislature since he [has] been in office, it’s unusually contentious,” Canon said.

The resolution opposing the commission’s map signals Republicans aren’t going to approve them, increasing the likelihood of court intervention, which has often been the case in Wisconsin’s recent redistricting history.

Every 10 years, states must use census data to update their legislative maps. Traditionally, the state legislature is supposed to draw the maps for the state Assembly, state Senate and House of Representatives seats. The maps are then passed on to the governor to be signed or vetoed. 

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Though, this has not been the case in Wisconsin for many years. In the past 50 years, the only time redistricting maps came about through the designed route was in 2011, Canon said.

That year, Republicans in the state Assembly and Senate were able to make drastic changes to the previous maps, which were designed by the federal courts. Then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker was in office during the 2011 redistricting, so the GOP-dominated chambers could draw the maps and obtain the governor’s approval without court interference. 

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that, at the time of the redistricting in 2011, federal courts said approximately 323,026 people needed to be moved into other districts to equalize populations. The Wisconsin GOP’s 2011 maps, however, moved about 2.4 million people — more than seven times the amount the courts recommended.

When Republicans drew the maps in 2011, they “violated the Voting Rights Act to an extent and a federal court stepped up in 2012 to fix that,” Canon said. “It was the first time in federal court that a three-judge panel said it was a partisan gerrymander.”

Canon said he believes the governor and legislature will not come to an agreement, meaning the final map will likely be a combination of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s and the federal court’s drawn maps. The federal courts will likely address voting rights issues with its own draft, and then the state Supreme Court will choose to whether or not to fold the federal maps into its own final version.

Robert Yablon, a UW associate professor of law and redistricting expert, said there are important differences between the People’s Maps Commission’s maps and the state’s current maps from 2011.

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“On the sort of objective measures of districting things like how compact the districts are and how many political subdivisions they divide, the commission’s maps do better than the current maps,” Yablon said. “They are more compact, they split fewer counties and other political subdivisions.”

Yablon said maps from the People’s Maps Commission still gives Republicans the majority but less so than the current maps. The expectation is that Republicans would win fewer seats under the People’s Maps Commission proposed maps, though they would still be favored to win legislative majorities more often than not, Yablon explained. 

The window for feedback on the drafts closed Oct. 7, so the commission is now making revisions, which Yablon thinks will entail two specific changes.

“One criticism of the draft maps is that it doesn’t seem like they’ve given a whole lot of attention to the Federal Voting Rights Act,” he said. “That’s a federal law that protects the voting rights of minority groups and in particular in Wisconsin, when thinking about districts, we are thinking about large geographically compact populations of Black and Latino voters.”

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The other key revision the commission may consider is making the maps more even-handed while avoiding political subdivision split, Yablon said.

Despite the revisions in progress, Canon doesn’t think the final maps will come from the People’s Maps Commission or the state legislature, but rather the courts. 

In the end, if the federal courts end up playing a more substantial role, Canon said Wisconsinites can expect to see bigger changes in the final maps.

“I don’t think there’ll be big changes but certainly there will be some change,” Canon said. “That question also depends on how much of a role the federal court plays versus the state Supreme Court.”

Wisconsin officially got the data to start the redistricting process back in August. The maps need to be in place by May, before the next gubernatorial election. This is required under the Wisconsin state constitution, Canon said.