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WI Redistricting Debate Takes Local Turn

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021   

MADISON, Wis. -- As Wisconsin leaders wrangle over the redrawing of political maps, the fate of boundaries for local government seats hangs in the balance. Watchdogs said decisions made now could hurt voters ahead of next year's spring elections.

Redistricting, conducted once a decade after each census, commands heavy attention for its effect on legislative and Congressional maps, but lines also need to be updated for county and municipal seats.

Republican leaders in the Legislature proposed a bill which would delay new local maps until 2023.

Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said that wouldn't be fair to voters in some cities that have seen demographic changes.

"Now there's 40,000 more people in several of these other districts," Rothschild reported. "Why their voices and their votes don't count as much as other people's that are in districts that haven't changed at all?"

Next spring, local elections would rely on maps drawn in 2011, but Rothschild pointed out GOP lawmakers, who also controlled the process then, produced gerrymandered maps for all levels of government, and the bill would give them an opportunity to do the same.

Bill supporters argued their hands are tied because census data is delayed this year, and not all local governments have time to submit new maps.

But Rothschild countered with technology, local leaders could be prompted to speed up the process once census numbers are released later this summer.

He emphasized giving up local control, even if temporary, would lead to the same partisan issues that have plagued the state in recent years.

"To split up a town right down the middle, or to split up a district one side of the street versus another, is very annoying for people," Rothschild contended. "And they don't get great representation that way."

The office of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers suggested he might reject the bill. He is also expected to veto maps submitted by Republicans, a move that will likely result in a court battle.

Meanwhile, the Senate bill has support from groups such as the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which cites timeline concerns for offices in smaller communities.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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