When voters look at their ballots in April, they’re likely to see familiar county board supervisor names.
The county board on Thursday voted 17-9 for a redistricting plan that keeps the district boundaries as close as possible to the rule of one district, one incumbent.
The result, some board members have acknowledged, is that incumbents are more likely to be reelected, which is what they wanted.
A redistricting committee handed the board a different plan three weeks ago. That plan for the 29 supervisory districts included seven districts that would have had no incumbents and five districts that would have had two or three incumbents.
Some board members argued they needed to preserve as much continuity and knowledge about county business as possible, so they asked that new maps be drawn to give incumbents a better chance at reelection.
A minority of board members argued that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.
Voting for the revised, incumbent-friendly maps were Mary Beaver, Ron Bomkamp, Pam Bostwick, Richard Bostwick, Tom Brien, Wayne Gustina, Brian Knudson, Kevin Leavy, Mary Mawhinney, Louis Peer, Russ Podzilni, Robert Potter, Yuri Rashkin, Danette Rynes, Kathy Schulz, Jacob Taylor and Bob Yeomans. Three board members were absent.
They voted after hearing from 10 speakers and letter writers who all favored the committee’s initial map.
Ryan McCue, who said he was speaking as a private resident and not as deputy city manager of Janesville, said the board’s decision, while not based on political affiliation, amounted to gerrymandering because it favored a particular group of candidates, the incumbents.
“Gerrymandering is the greatest sin against democracy,” McCue told the board.
The board heard a presentation from the county planning department’s mapping expert Jennifer Borlick, who described shifting blocks of residents from district to district in her effort to follow the board’s direction to protect incumbents.
Borlick could not place one incumbent in every single district, no matter how hard she tried. The new District 8, which borders the west and south sides of Janesville, ended up with two incumbents who live there. And three other new districts, 11, 12 and 13 in the Beloit area, will have five incumbents among them.
Some board members seemed interested in using the original maps but modified in the Beloit area as shown in the revised maps. Board member Genia Stevens said the Beloit revisions would better represent people of color in Beloit.
But in a series of procedural votes, board members steered away from a hybrid solution.
Board member William Wilson argued for the original maps and against preserving incumbents. He said he looked at board minutes from 2011’s redistricting discussions and found that only nine board members from that time were still on the board.
The board is likely to see that kind of turnover again, Wilson said.
Board member Wes Davis, who also served on the ad hoc committee and supported the original maps, wrote a note at the end of the meeting: “I feel like I’m in an old, horse-drawn cart being dragged into a muddy swamp by a well intentioned horse. ... We as a board must follow what is dictated by the census blocks and community growth patterns. To do otherwise is to deny progress to future generations of Wisconsinites.”
Those in favor of helping incumbents didn’t say much about their position, but they had made those points at their last meeting.
Board member Leavy asked how the board was to explain its actions on the complicated map-drawing process to the public. County Administrator Josh Smith suggested they explain it to their constituents when they ask for their votes in the spring.
The law requires each district to be as close as possible to 5,644 residents, which is the result of dividing the county’s 2020 population by 29 supervisory districts. The map chosen came within 4.38% of that requirement, well within the legally established maximum deviation of 10%, Borlick said.
The committee also tried to make sure that municipal boundaries were followed as much as possible and that minority populations and other communities of interest were not marginalized by being all packed together in one district or divided into so many districts that their voices were diluted.
The county maps will be sent to municipalities that are required to use them to draw new voting wards. The maps should be ready for candidates in many local races who need to decide about running in the spring election.
Candidates begin taking out papers to run Dec. 1. They must file their nomination signatures by Jan. 4 in order to be included on the ballot.
On Oct. 8, this story was corrected to reflect the following.
A story on Page 1A Friday gave an incorrect number for the Rock County Board members who voted against the new county board district maps at Thursday’s meeting.
The vote was 17-9 in favor of the new maps.