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July 20, 2024 1:54 pm

Local News

How soon should you expect new legislative maps?


by Jack Kelly / Wisconsin Watch, Wisconsin Watch
January 15, 2024

Forward is a look ahead at the week in Wisconsin government and politics from the Wisconsin Watch statehouse team.

This week, we’ll dive into the fast-paced redistricting timeline set by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

What’s happening and what’s next?

The shapes of Wisconsin’s legislative districts for this year’s election are now in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and its highly paid outside consultants — a decision almost certain to reduce GOP power in the Legislature.

With the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers unlikely to agree on maps through the normal legislative process, parties in the case submitted seven alternatives, commencing a breakneck few weeks in the run-up to the justices’ final decision. They’ll have until Jan. 22 to pick apart one another’s proposals. Marquette University’s John Johnson has already done some parsing, showing how different maps can starkly change the composition of the Legislature.

Then, the court’s two outside consultants, political science professors Bernard Grofman, of the University of California-Irvine, and Jonathan Cervas, of Carnegie Mellon University, have until Feb. 1 to file a report assessing how each proposal comports criteria for the maps outlined in the court’s decision. If no submission meets with the justices’ requirements, the two consultants can offer their own proposal.

The litigants and some outside groups then have one week to respond to the consultants’ report.

After that, the justices will ultimately decide what the legislative districts look like. State elections officials have said new districts need to be established by March 15 to be used in this year’s election. Republicans have said they plan to appeal the state court decision in federal court.

Who submitted maps and what were the standards?

Those invited to map proposals include the plaintiffs, represented by liberal law firm Law Forward; Evers; a group of Democratic state senators; legislative Republicans, who drew the current districts; and another group of voters, represented by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Matthew Petering, who uses algorithms to create legislative maps, and a separate group of voters who had a challenge to the legislative maps denied by the high court also submitted maps.

The maps had to meet certain criteria, including that each district contain roughly the same number of people; be bounded by “county, precinct, town or ward lines”; be composed of contiguous territory; be “in as compact form as practicable”; and comply by relevant federal law, such as the Voting Rights Act.

The justices will also consider the number of split municipalities included in a plan, whether maps preserve “communities of interest” in single districts and the partisan makeup of the districts. Though the court declined to hear arguments that partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution, the majority opinion declared the court does “not have free license to enact maps that privilege one political party over another.”

What do the maps look like?

The Marquette analysis found that if any of the seven maps had been in place in 2022, all would have resulted in Republicans controlling the Assembly. Two proposals would have given Democrats control of the Senate. Currently, Republicans control two-thirds of the Senate and 64 out of 99 Assembly seats, threatening Evers’ veto power.

The legislative Republicans’ Assembly proposal splits up the most municipalities (114) and wards (117) and would have given Republicans 64 seats in 2022 while the WILL maps split the fewest municipalities (37) and would have given Republicans 60 seats. Evers’ proposal would split 55 municipalities and five wards and would have given Republicans 53 seats.

Background reading

What we’re watching this week

Tuesday: The Assembly will vote on a wide-ranging set of legislation during a floor session, including a bill aimed at easing long licensure wait times for health care professionals. Session begins at 1 p.m. in the Assembly chambers at the Capitol. Read our previous coverage.

Wednesday: TheSenate Committee on Universities and Revenue holds a public hearing at 9:30 a.m. in room 411 South on SB367, legislation that would guarantee admission to Universities of Wisconsin schools and technical colleges for Wisconsin high schoolers who finish in the top 5% of their graduating class.

Thursday: The Senate Committee on Health holds public hearing at 10 a.m. in Room 300 SE on SB410, which would ban gain-of-function research. Read our previous coverage.

This article first appeared on Wisconsin Watch and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.