Monday, February 19, 2024

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers Signs New Legislative Maps, Ends GOP's Gerrymandering

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has signed new legislative maps for Wisconsin, hopefully ending the redistricting debate in Wisconsin, at least for the remainder of this year.

Evers's maps were considered by Republicans, who run the state legislature, as the better option between accepting his redrawing of legislative districts and the possibility that the state Supreme Court might adopt maps that would produce worse outcomes for them. They passed his maps last week.

There was some speculation over whether Evers would sign the bill or not — he could have vetoed them, and allowed the state Supreme Court to issue a ruling on which of the several maps submitted to them should be enacted. But doing so would have been odd, and potentially seen as political, as the legislature sent him the very same maps he had proposed.

So the governor signed them, flanked by supporters who held signs that read, "Doing the Right Thing."

"Wisconsinites want fair maps, and Wisconsinites deserve fair maps," Evers said as he signed the legislation into law.

Even though Evers, a Democrat, drew the maps, analyses that Republicans will still likely win the state legislature under them, although by a much slimmer margin and with more districts likely to be competitive, thus allowing at least the possibility that the maps could result in Democrats winning, either in 2024 or in the future.

Under the older maps that are now gone, Republicans enjoyed robust, nearly veto-proof majorities in both houses of the state legislature — despite the fact that Wisconsin is a "purple" state, where most of the statewide elections in the past decade were within just a few points of the top two candidates running. Evers won reelection to the governorship in 2022, for example, with over 51 percent of the vote. However, Republicans carried the state Assembly, winning 64 of the 99 seats within the chamber.

Democrats and stewards of good democracy alike should be happy with Monday's outcome — these new maps are more competitive, and will allow voters, not lawmakers, to decide who wins or loses. 

What's needed next, however, is reform of how district maps are drawn in the future. We came close to that, when Republicans drew up legislation mirroring the "Iowa Model" for map-drawing, but did so with a means of allowing them to still draw boundaries benefiting themselves (as they did in 2011 and 2022) without bipartisan input, if the maps from an independent commission were twice rejected. As Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin Examiner last year, the plan was never a serious reconsideration from Republicans to reform the process:

Say it’s voted down twice, the Legislature can do what they normally do, which is just amend the legislation and pass whatever version they want. And so that would allow the Republicans in Wisconsin to just vote down the nonpartisan maps twice and then put forward their own plan.

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