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Following Election, Redistricting Fight Expected in WI

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In 2011, the redistricting fight in Wisconsin was challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case. (Adobe Stock)
In 2011, the redistricting fight in Wisconsin was challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case. (Adobe Stock)
November 4, 2020

MADISON, Wis. -- As the dust settles from the 2020 election, some of the attention will shift toward another hotly debated issue: redistricting. In Wisconsin, groups advocating for a fair process say it's likely to be another political fight.

Each state redraws its legislative maps every 10 years after the census. Wisconsin's Constitution gives that power to the Legislature, and in 2010, Republicans controlled all levels of government, putting them in charge of the process. Jay Heck, executive director of the nonpartisan group Common Cause Wisconsin, said they used it to their advantage to the point where some voters don't have a real say in who represents them.

"In Wisconsin, only 10% of the 99 Assembly seats, only about nine of them, are even remotely competitive," he said. "The same is true in the 33 state Senate elections."

An Associated Press analysis of 2018 election results showed Wisconsin's districts had among the largest Republican tilts in the nation. Heck's group helped get an advisory referendum in 11 counties this fall, asking for an independent process. Gov. Tony Evers also established a nonpartisan redistricting commission, but GOP leaders call it unconstitutional and have signaled they'll go forward with their own maps.

Heck said that unlike 2011, when a Republican governor was in place, Evers, a Democrat, could veto any new map strictly drawn by Republicans. But it still could end up before the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court. In the meantime, Heck said applying more public pressure -- through the referendum process -- could help convince leaders that voters don't want partisanship playing such a big role in a key process.

"In the 17 counties where they've been held before," he said, "every time they're on the ballot, voters - regardless of whether the county is a deep red, a deep blue or somewhere in-between - voters have voted overwhelmingly in support of nonpartisan redistricting."

He said they hope to get more referendums on the spring election ballot, just as the redistricting process takes shape. If Democrats ever gain a clear edge in the process, Heck said, he hopes they don't retaliate and use it their advantage, noting that would defeat the purpose of creating a level playing field.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI