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Opponents say Wisconsin GOP maps continue gerrymander

Maayan Silver

Opponents of Wisconsin redistricting plans that would keep solid GOP majorities in place for another decade railed against the proposals Thursday, promising to fight the maps in the Legislature and beyond.

“Today we demand fair maps,” said Debra Cronmiller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin at a rally in the Capitol rotunda that attracted more than 100 opponents of the GOP plans before a joint legislative hearing. Many planned to testify at the overflow hearing, the only planned public meeting where lawmakers were gathering feedback.

Republican leaders insisted that the maps are fair, legal and based on feedback, including from a commission created by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The maps “comply with all state and federal law, reflect the public’s input and were guided by the established criteria” for drawing the lines set by the Republican Legislature, Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu testified. That criteria included adhering as close as possible to the current districts, which Democrats say are unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

Redistricting is the once-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political boundaries based on the latest census showing how populations have changed in neighborhoods, cities and counties since 2010. Mapmakers can create an advantage for their political party by packing opponents’ voters into a few districts or spreading them among multiple districts — a process known as gerrymandering.

Republicans unveiled legislative and congressional maps last week that are largely based on the current districts. Democrats argue those are so unfairly drawn, the new maps should be started from scratch. Democrats and other opponents to the GOP maps want Republicans to consider alternate proposals, including ones drawn the Evers commission.

Evers has said it was would be “unconscionable and insulting” to enact “another set of gerrymandered maps modeled after the same gerrymandered ones we’ve had for a decade.”

The joint legislative hearing Thursday gave the public its first chance to tell lawmakers directly what they think. It comes just days before the Legislature is expected to vote on the maps, which would set political boundary lines for the next 10 years.

That would send the maps to Evers, who has already told Republicans he won’t sign what they’ve put forward. That means the new maps will most likely be drawn by a court.

There are two pending lawsuits over redistricting, one in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and another in federal court. Democrats want federal courts to draw the maps, as was done the past three times Wisconsin was under divided control. Republicans want the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to draw the maps.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos testified that the current and proposed maps don’t prevent Democrats from winning a majority, repeating an argument he has made for years in defense of the GOP boundary lines.

“Candidates determine who is successful in our election, not simply the partisan makeup of the district,” Vos said in response to critical Democratic lawmakers. “What I hear in your frustration is the inability of Democrats and their candidates to connect with voters in every part of the state.”

Republicans hold a 61-38 majority in the Assembly and a 21-12 advantage in the Senate. Republicans also hold five of the state’s eight congressional districts. The proposed maps would largely keep those legislative districts in safe Republican control and make a western Wisconsin congressional district more favorable for the GOP.

Opponents of the GOP maps said they unfairly protect Republicans in a battleground state that should have more competitive races. In the 2020 presidential race, President Joe Biden won by less than 0.6%, fewer than 21,000 votes.

“Wisconsin is a 50-50 state and our maps should reflect that,” said Elizabeth Tevino, state director of All On The Line, a national effort to end gerrymandering,

Vos said the commission’s maps prioritized giving Democrats a partisan advantage. He said the maps were drawn by legislative staffers in the basement of the Capitol, not with help from outside attorneys or experts as was done a decade ago.

Matt Rothschild, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said the Republican maps were a “slap in the face to the people of Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsinites are sick and tired of the power hogging and political manipulation in this building,” he said.

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