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Wisconsin Democrats Challenge Decade-Old District Maps

August 18, 2021 by Dan McCue
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vetoes Republican bills that would have made it more difficult to vote absentee in the battleground state during a news conference in the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. — Congressional and legislative district maps that have been used in electoral contests for the past decade should not be used as the starting point for drawing new boundaries using 2020 census data, Wisconsin Democrats say in a federal lawsuit.

The complaint was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Madison, Wisconsin, less than 24 hours after the U.S. Census Bureau released the data to be used in the redistricting process.

The existing maps were drawn by Republican state lawmakers and were approved by then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2011.

But the political realities of Wisconsin are different today, with Republicans still in control of the legislature, but with a Democrat, Gov. Tony Evers, occupying the governor’s mansion.

“There is no reasonable prospect that Wisconsin’s political branches will reach consensus to enact lawful legislative and congressional district plans in time to be used in the upcoming 2022 election,” writes Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias on behalf of the plaintiffs, six Wisconsin voters.

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent the Wisconsin Elections Commission from using the current maps for any future election and to draw entirely new maps if Evers and the legislators can’t reach a deal on the shape of new districts.

While there is still time for Evers and the Legislature to act, the plaintiffs argue that the federal court should intervene now to set a schedule and be prepared to enact its own maps “in the near-certain event that the political branches fail timely to do so.”

Wisconsin Republicans argue that as the state’s population has increased by less than 4% over the past decade, only relatively minor changes to the current maps are needed.

But early independent analysis of the just released census numbers suggests significant changes will have to be made to both congressional and state district lines as the process moves forward.

For instance, on the state level, population growth in and around the state capitol of Madison will require the strongly Democratic districts in that area get smaller, while population losses in and around Milwaukee, another Democratic stronghold, will force those districts to expand into more rural areas.

Joe Handrick, a former Republican lawmaker who worked with Republicans on redistricting in 2011, told the Associated Press that a dozen districts located between Madison and Milwaukee will see the most dramatic changes.

Handrick called these the state’s “turbulence zone,” but he doesn’t appear to have told AP’s Scott Bauer whether he expects any districts to ultimately flip to the opposing party. At present 10 of the 12 districts in the zone are represented by Republicans, while just two are held by Democrats.

As for the congressional districts, the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Rep. Mark Pocan, and encompassing Madison, gained more people over the past decade than any other in Wisconsin, adding 78,000 people.

The growth in Pocan’s district likely means he will lose some people to neighboring congressional districts, one held by retiring Democratic Rep. Ron Kind and the other by Republican Rep. Bryan Steil.

The 8th Congressional District, covering Brown and Outagamie counties, saw the state’s second-highest growth, adding more than 41,000 people. That district is held by Republican Mike Gallagher.

Meanwhile, the 4th Congressional District, which encompasses Milwaukee and is represented by Rep. Gwen Moore, lost about 15,000 people — the only district to see a net loss in the state.

As a result, Moore’s district will have to be redrawn to add about 41,000 people.

The lawsuit filed by the Democrats in Wisconsin is similar to complaints filed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and others in Louisiana, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. All seek to block the drawing of new maps based on the current ones.

On Monday, Republican lawmakers asked a legislative panel to authorize the state’s top two Republican lawmakers to hire lawyers at taxpayer expense and seek permission to intervene in the federal suit.

The move was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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