MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Redistricting of local political boundary lines in Wisconsin would be delayed a year or more under a bill backed by Republicans and local governments that the state Assembly passed Wednesday.
Under the proposal, county board and local aldermanic districts would remain the same next year rather than be redrawn based on the 2020 census, as current law requires. The bill would not affect the timing of redistricting for congressional or legislative districts, which must be redrawn before the 2022 election.
The Assembly passed it on a 59-38 vote, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against. It now heads to the Senate. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has not said whether he would sign or veto the measure.
Republican lawmakers and other backers of the measure say it’s innocuous and not designed to give anyone a partisan advantage. But Democrats and other critics say it would be unconstitutional and would disenfranchise voters in growing parts of the state that would be forced to hold local elections based on current, rather than updated, maps in 2022.
“This is an insidious bill,” said Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer. “It may look good on the surface, it is not.”
Democrats argued that keeping the current maps in place for local elections runs the risk of being unconstitutional and violates the “one person, one vote” doctrine. Democrats, who have long railed against the maps Republicans drew in 2011, are pushing for redistricting this year to be done by an independent commission. Republicans don't plan to give up their power to draw the maps.
Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz called the measure delaying local redistricting unnecessary and “probably unconstitutional."
“Given where this came from, the distrust that exists and the games we saw in 2011, I don’t think anybody here thinks that’s a good idea,” Hintz said prior to the debate.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos accused Democrats of taking a noncontroversial proposal brought to lawmakers by local governments and turning it into a partisan issue. All the bill does is create deadlines for local redistricting that can be met given the delay in delivery of the census data caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Vos said.
States aren’t expected to get census data until mid-August or later, making it impossible for counties to meet a July 1 deadline in state law to redraw districts. If nothing is done to change the current deadlines, there will be lawsuits because state law isn’t being followed, Vos said at a news conference before the debate.
He said Democrats were turning the issue into a fundraising vehicle by using a “political gimmick” to create a controversy where none should exist.
Groups representing Wisconsin towns, villages, cities and counties support the bill. The Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association opposes the bill because of the different timelines for when new maps would take effect for county and aldermanic districts. The Wisconsin County Clerks Association supports it.
The proposal would push back the current deadlines for counties and cities to draw their new district boundary lines. The result would be to keep the current maps in place until the spring 2023 election for city council and other aldermanic races and 2024 for county board races, except those that have staggered terms and elections in 2023.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this story.