Deeply Flawed and Unsupportable Republican Redistricting Plan
The bill lacks safeguards to prevent partisan manipulation.
On Thursday evening, September 14th, less than 48 hours after unveiling a massive, comprehensive overhaul plan for redistricting of Wisconsin’s state legislative districts, majority Assembly Republicans passed their legislation – Assembly Bill 415. The bill was drafted entirely in secret, with no consultation or input from Democrats or public interest groups who have long advocated for redistricting reform.
Instead, the partisan pseudo “Iowa Model” redistricting legislation was suddenly announced on Tuesday afternoon, September 12th, without any prior notice or warning and taken directly to the Assembly floor 48 hours later. No committee referral or consideration, no public hearings, no consultation with Democrats or redistricting reform advocates or with any Wisconsin citizens whatsoever. After 12 years of steadfastly opposing any and every attempt to advance or even discuss the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting process for Wisconsin, the legislative Republicans introduced AB 415.
This Republican Iowa imitation measure falls short of the actual redistricting process that has been in place in Iowa for 43 years. It lacks the absolutely critical and necessary safeguards that were inserted into the Iowa Model legislation for Wisconsin introduced in 2019 and in 2021.These safeguards ensured that partisan manipulation included in AB 415 cannot prevail during the actual redistricting process. This proposal in its current form explicitly omits the safeguards. Instead, AB 415 allows the majority party in the legislature to subvert the adoption of non-partisan voting maps and pass unfair, gerrymandered partisan voting maps. Wisconsin voters would be subjected to the same gerrymandered and rigged maps the Wisconsin Legislature led by Republicans pushed through in 2011 and in 2021-22. They could accomplish this by simply continuing to reject LRB-produced revisions of the voting maps until the January 31st deadline included in AB 415 as passed.
It is essential that any redistricting reform measure put forth by the legislature must:
- require that redistricting plans and voting maps be produced solely with the nonpartisan criteria utilized by the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB),
- and stipulate that any non-LRB originated redistricting plan can only pass in in both chambers of the Legislature if the amended legislation receives a 75 percent affirmative vote in each chamber.
In this way, broad bipartisan support and consensus that must be attained for any nonpartisan redistricting plan to work can be assured with trust and confidence of Wisconsin voters. A simple bipartisan majority, with as few as one vote from both political parties, is not acceptable.
Also, a redistricting plan must include a provision that requires redistricting be undertaken by the Wisconsin Supreme Court if after the January 31st deadline the Legislature and Governor fail to reach agreement on the plan. That must be explicitly spelled out in this legislation. It is a critical element in Iowa’s redistricting process and an important reason why it has worked well there since 1980. It serves as a powerful incentive for Iowa or any Legislature to reach bipartisan consensus on adopting nonpartisan voting maps.
There are other problems with the pseudo “reform” measure passed through the Assembly on September 14th. If there is real sincerity and interest by Speaker Vos and Assembly Republicans in enacting into law genuine nonpartisan redistricting for Wisconsin, then AB 415 must NOT be considered in the State Senate without using the proper legislative process. This must be done in the light of day. If that does not occur and the gerrymandered Senate just schedules and passes the legislation in its current form, as was done in the Assembly, Gov. Evers must and will veto this pseudo-reform measure.
Please pardon the voters of Wisconsin if they don’t believe that after 12 years of attacking, resisting and blocking any public discussion of redistricting reform in the State Capitol, that Assembly Republicans have all of a sudden “seen the light” and in two days they could craft, consider and pass a comprehensive reform measure that Wisconsinites can have confidence in and embrace.
Assembly and State Senate Republicans and their leadership know that comprehensive nonpartisan redistricting reform must be supported and embraced by all of those involved in and affected by the process. That requires a deliberative and open, transparent process and bipartisan consensus or it will not be tenable, sustainable or believable. Without that trust and buy in from all those affected, a major, once in a generation reform measure like this cannot succeed.
Perhaps that’s the objective of the architects of this plan – to kill redistricting reform altogether. We certainly hope that is not the case. But if it is, we will not be deterred.