If we don’t know what gerrymandering looks like, the People’s Maps Commission will do its best to make it clear.
The commission conducted an online hearing Thursday evening for people in the 1st Congressional District to weigh in on what congressional and legislative maps for Wisconsin should look like. It’s part of an effort headquartered in the state Department of Administration to counter gerrymandering that both Democrats and Republicans have practiced for years.
Current maps for Assembly and state Senate districts heavily favor Republicans, who redrew them after the 2010 Census.
Now, because the 2020 Census is done, it’s time to draw new maps.
It is the duty of the Legislature, currently controlled by Republicans, to draw the maps. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, in 2020 created the People’s Maps Commission to craft alternative maps. It is conducting hearings in each of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts to gather input.
The nine-member commission will submit maps to the Legislature in 2021, but the Legislature will be under no obligation to approve the maps or even consider them. The primary purpose of the work by the commission, we suspect, will be to provide a contrast to the maps the Legislature draws.
Last time around, Republicans drew maps behind closed doors with help from private law firms. The Legislature passed them, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed them into law.
In the 1st Congressional District, part of Rock County was sliced off but Janesville was kept as an appendage on the district’s west end to accommodate the incumbent, Republican Paul Ryan. At the same time, some of Waukesha County’s most conservative suburbs were added.
The redistricting process in 2011 sparked several lawsuits that cost the state millions of dollars. Different this time, however, is that the Democrats hold the governor’s office. Evers can veto whatever maps the Legislature passes, and the Republicans don’t have enough votes to overturn his vetoes.
Everybody expects the process to end up in the courts, where the work offered by the People’s Map Commission will almost certainly be touted by attorneys for the Democrats as an alternative to the lines proposed by the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Most people in Wisconsin want maps drawn differently. A Marquette Law School polls shows 70% of Wisconsinites want redistricting done by a nonpartisan commission. Fifty of Wisconsin’s 72 county boards have passed resolutions favoring nonpartisan redistricting.
Tim Cullen, a retired Democratic state senator from Janesville, said he’s given about 80 talks on the topic of redistricting between 2013 and the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. He said in those seven years, he noticed people were becoming better educated on the issue.
“When we first gave talks, we had to explain what the word gerrymandering meant,” Cullen said. “As the years went on, the citizens became much more educated on the issue. The citizenry has become really educated over the years on the issue.”
Democrats are hoping voters are paying better attention and will like what they see from the People’s Maps Commission, even if the work never gets a vote.