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Wisconsin’s district maps take a turn toward the courts

Wisconsin’s Assembly and Senate voted on party lines (Republicans for, Democrats against) to pass the required newly drawn voting district maps. Every Wisconsinite is affected by these maps because our representation in Madison and Washington, D.C. determines what resources are allocated to our communities and what policies will govern our lives.

Maybe you want our state to stop sending our tax dollars to Washington, D.C., only to have the money distributed to other states for their residents’ health care, not ours. In fact, 62% of us want our state to accept the $1.6 billion that Medicaid expansion would bring.

Maybe you are one of the 95% of Wisconsinites who would like to protect our water by holding polluters accountable.

It’s possible you would like to see better funding for special education in our schools —73% of Wisconsinites want that.

Why can’t we get things we want? In part, because our maps are gerrymandered to advantage the majority party. When a representative is assured re-election, why respond to the public if the party leaders and big money donors have a different agenda?

If this bothers you, then odds are good that you are one of the 72% of us who want to see our state enact legislation to require that a nonpartisan process be used to draw our maps. Iowa has had such a system for 40 years. It’s never been challenged in court.

In contrast, the Wisconsin method of drawing maps allows unfettered gerrymandering. This continues to waste our money by delaying approval of the maps and sending them to the courts in an effort to obtain some measure of fairness.

Now, in spite of written and oral testimony from more than 200 people, opposition from more than 20 organizations, and thousands of contacts to state legislators, all in opposition to the legislature’s proposed maps, the maps have been passed. They have been vetoed by Gov. Evers and here we go again, back to the courts. Both federal and state courts have been asked to apportion new districts for Wisconsin if (when) the political branches fail.

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court

has agreed to hear a case ( Johnson v. WEC) which could result in that court redrawing the maps. This would be the first time in over 50 years that the elected State Supreme Court has indicated a willingness to draw new maps. In previous decades, federal courts have drawn the maps when called upon to do so. The attorneys for the majority party in the legislature will no doubt ask the Court to simply accept the new maps the party drew to advantage itself, but this would be a political act and is something the Court, one would expect, is unwilling to countenance.

The federal court (where judges are appointed for life, not elected) has two cases before it related to new districts and is reserving time in late January for a trial about what new maps should look like. Although the first legal challenge was filed in the federal court, the judges there may put their work on hold if the state court proceeds with drawing maps. One of the issues the federal court may hear, regardless of state court action, relates to compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

You can stay current on the above court cases by logging onto fairmapswi.com. What you will find there is less exciting than a Packers game but more important to your future.

A pathway out of this time-consuming and costly map litigation exists. Let your representatives know that you want them to pass AB 389 and SB 395, which will institute a nonpartisan process of drawing district maps in Wisconsin. Write letters to the editor to keep this issue in the public eye. Public apathy allows politicians to ignore constituents and toe the party line rather than work for us. That is not the Wisconsin way.

Cartoon courtesy of Phoenix Krizek-Score and Maureen Ash

December 1, 2021