Nonpartisan Redistricting Panel Takes Shape in WI. Can it Work?

Jul 13, 2020

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MADISON, Wis. - The State of Wisconsin is now accepting applications for people to serve on a nonpartisan redistricting panel, aimed at eliminating political influence in redrawing legislative maps. But some are questioning whether the state is ready for this approach.

After each census, states are required to reshape legislative boundaries. Wisconsin Republicans were in charge of the process after the 2010 census, but critics say it resulted in gerrymandered maps that strongly benefited the party. State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, says his own party is guilty of the same approach in the past, and that it's time to put it to rest. "Just the idea that it's taken out of the legislative process, I think, is a really good step," says Erpenbach.

Earlier this year Gov. Tony Evers, also a Democrat, signed an executive order to create the commission. But it's viewed as a non-binding order that would need legislative approval. And Republicans, who still control the Legislature, have suggested they will ignore the panel's work and follow the process under state law. They accuse Evers of pandering to Democratic voters.

A 2019 Marquette University Law School poll found 72% of Wisconsin residents favored using an independent commission to oversee redistricting. While some lawmakers might ignore those results, Erpenbach says it's possible that public opinion could hold weight in the overall discussion. "If this is something people do support," says Erpenbach. "And they make it an issue throughout a campaign, rather than just have the individual candidates make it an issue, but actually there's a real groundswell for change - I think it could happen."

The 2011 maps drafted by Republicans were challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. And political experts say if the GOP takes charge of the upcoming effort, the issue will wind up back in court.