Wisconsin’s state legislative and congressional district boundaries are determined by the state legislature, subject to a gubernatorial veto. Separately, Governor Tony Evers ordered the creation of the People’s Maps Commission, an advisory redistricting body designed to be a vehicle for public input and engagement. In November 2021, Governor Evers vetoed maps legislators produced after calling them “gerrymandering 2.0.”89 As a result of this stalemate, the selection of maps was left to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which stated that it would seek a “least-change” approach and choose maps that made as few changes to the existing map as possible. Governor Evers submitted a state legislative map for consideration that would have increased the number of majority-Black Assembly districts from six to seven while the map legislators submitted would have reduced that number from six to five. Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court originally selected the governor’s map, legislators won a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in a ruling that the governor’s attempt to improve Black representation in the state legislature was an illegal racial gerrymander. As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court selected the legislature’s map and reduced the number of majority-Black Assembly districts. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s least-change mandate resulted in congressional and state legislative maps that largely recreated the previous cycle’s gerrymander.
Overall State Grade: F
Wisconsin’s Fair Maps Coalition was very active in both lobbying the legislature and providing testimony to the governor’s People’s Maps Commission. Carlene Bechen, the Organizing Director of the Fair Maps Coalition (FMC) noted that the FMC held dozens of trainings using Districtr and submitted over 1,000 community of interest maps, exceeding their goal of submitting 800, at least 100 from each congressional district. The FMC organized a virtual lobby day just before the start of the joint legislative session on redistricting. About 200 people participated in the lobby day, and more than 150 testified to legislators at the single public hearing on the new voting district maps. In addition, the FMC organized 17 simultaneous rallies at the Capitol and around the state with more than 1,000 participants calling on the legislature and courts to create fair voting maps.
Advocates faced significant challenges in dealing with both the governor’s commission and the legislature. The People’s Maps Commission struggled to find its footing early due to a lack of budget and support. However, it eventually held public hearings across the state and solicited input from a wide range of stakeholders, including members of the public, interest groups, and local officials. The coalition did extensive work to generate applicants to the commission, which resulted in three of nine commissioners coming from the ranks of Fair Maps activists. The commission’s goal was to create a fair and transparent redistricting process, in contrast to the legislature’s closed-door approach. Unfortunately, the legislature did not consider the commission’s maps and instead passed their own partisan maps. Debra Cronmiller of the League of Women Voters summarized the process by stating that “I gave the process a B, though our enacted maps are a fail.”
Wisconsin Republicans have used aggressive partisan gerrymandering to give themselves nearly veto-proof majorities in both state legislative chambers. Anexplicit prohibition against partisan gerrymandering would empower Wisconsin courts to stop this assault on voting rights. Passing a prohibition through the legislature would be a challenging task, so litigation seeking a pro-democracy interpretation of the Wisconsin
Constitution that prohibits the practice could provide an alternative path forward. Advocates recently filed such a challenge in state court. A new provision of Wisconsin law requiring the protection of communities of interest would also address some of the worst excesses of politician-drawn maps. It would mandate consideration of community testimony both by initial decision makers and courts if a stalemate or legal challenge requires judicial action.