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WI Supreme Court Backs 'Least-Change' Redistricting Plan

The Wisconsin State Capitol, in Madison, Wisconsin, houses both
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The Republican-created legislative and congressional maps, passed by the Wisconsin Legislature in November, were quickly vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers, teeing up a legal battle.

MADISON, Wis. -- In a four-three decision this week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court backed a "least-change" approach to redistricting in the state.

The decision means the court will likely make minimal alterations when drawing Wisconsin's new legislative and congressional district maps, an important milestone in the redistricting process.

Sachin Chheda, director and co-founder of the Fair Elections Project, said the battle over the maps is far from over.

"They still have to develop and implement a map from the state court perspective," Chheda explained. "So they still have to come up with a map. And that will still take a few weeks, even maybe a couple of months."

Wisconsin's current district lines, which were drafted in 2011, have been criticized since then by anti-gerrymandering groups. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a nonpartisan watchdog initiative, gave the Republicans' new proposals a failing grade for favoring GOP candidates.

Chheda pointed out even as the maps make their way through the courts, Wisconsinites can still make their voices heard in the redistricting process.

"There's ways for people to be engaged in the fight," Chheda asserted. "Both by just drawing public attention to it and by advocating for legislation that would change this for the long-term, at both the state and federal level."

In the court's ruling, the majority held any alterations to district lines should be limited to reflect population changes and adhere to other legal requirements, like the Voting Rights Act, but said the court will not take into account districts' political composition when drafting new maps.

Anthony LoCoco, deputy counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which brought the case to court, said while other partisan issues may be at play in redistricting, it is not the court's duty to weigh them when drafting new maps.

"There are other political considerations that can go into drawing maps, but that would be the legislature's and, to a lesser extent, the governor's role," LoCoco contended.

The redistricting process is undertaken once every decade, as states receive results from the U.S. Census. The 2020 census data came late this year, which means a compressed timeline for updating the district boundaries.

Born and raised in Indiana, Jonah Chester has been covering issues in Wisconsin for the past several years. He previously worked at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he earned awards for his coverage of everything from law enforcement and policing to the 2020 presidential election.