Wisconsin’s effort to create fair electoral maps

Sophia Voight, Assistant News Editor

With the collection of census data every 10 years, states redraw the boundaries of their electoral districts in order to balance the shifting population among districts.

This includes any legislative districts for the House of Representatives, state senate and state assembly.

The purpose of redistricting is to create districts of equal population to ensure every voter has an equal say, but that is not typically the result.

The demographics of a district often determine who its citizens elect as their representatives, which leaves redrawing districts vulnerable to gerrymandering as politicians along party lines want to hold as many seats as possible in the legislature.

In an effort to prevent partisan gerrymandering during the 2021 mapmaking, Gov. Tony Evers established the People’s Maps Commission by executive order in early 2020.

According to a Marquette Law School poll, 72% of the public prefer redistricting of legislative and congressional districts to be done by a nonpartisan commission.

The People’s Map Commission is a group of nine nonpartisan individuals tasked with conducting hearings and gathering input from experts and citizens across the state on how to create fair maps for Wisconsin.

Under the executive order, the commission members may not be elected officials, public officials, lobbyists or political party officials. Instead, the commission is made up of experts in nonpartisan redistricting, members from communities of interest and residents of each of the state’s eight congressional districts.

The idea of the commission is that the people of Wisconsin, instead of politicians, should make the decision about their representational districts.

Their goal is to assist in drawing fair, nonpartisan maps in a transparent and participatory manner.

The maps created by the commission will only be used as recommendations for state legislatures, which will inevitably be the ones to draft official district lines. The Legislature will then choose to accept the commission’s maps or ignore their maps to draft their own.

All commission members had to apply for the position and were then selected by three retired state judges. The resulting nine members were chosen from a pool of 270 applicants.

The commission’s redistricting hearings have already begun around the state, starting back in September. In total, there will be eight hearings — one for each congressional district — for Wisconsinites to give their input on the importance of fair mapping and how partisan maps affect their communities.

Due to COVID-19, the People’s Maps Commission will host virtual public hearings in each congressional district. All members of the public are encouraged to give their input on how electoral lines impact you and your community and how you think the commission should approach drawing the new district lines.

The commission members will also hear from experts about the importance of fair maps, the computer systems and statistics that help draw the maps, and new ideas and theories on the best way to draw maps.

The 6th Congressional District hearing will be held on Feb. 25 from 5:30 – 8:45 p.m.

You can find more information on how to get involved in the hearing at govstatus.egov.com/peoplesmaps/hearings-meetings.

Once all hearings are conducted and the 2020 census data for Wisconsin has been made available, the commission will draw up electoral map proposals.

Under the executive order, the People’s Maps will need to:

Be free from partisan bias and advantage
Avoid diluting or diminishing minority votes, including the practices of “packing” and “cracking”
Be compact and contiguous
Avoid splitting wards and municipalities
Retain the core population in each district
Maintain traditional communities of interest, and
Prevent voter disenfranchisement

This method for approaching mapmaking is derived from Iowa’s redistricting system, where nonpartisan staff draws the lines with a nonpartisan approach.

The difference between the commission’s maps and Iowa’s system, however, is that Iowa’s nonpartisan mapmaking carries the force of law, while the Wisconsin commission relies on an executive order, and any maps developed by the commission will be recommendations and won’t carry the force of law.

In his State of the State address in January, Evers said nonpartisan redistricting legislation has been introduced for years but hasn’t been able to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The governor said the Legislature’s choice to not move forward on issues like medical marijuana and expanding background checks on gun sales when they are heavily supported by Wisconsinites is proof lawmakers aren’t accountable to voters.