[Brookfield…] Common Sense Wisconsin (CSW) has some simple advice for those preparing to re-draw Wisconsin’s legislative and congressional districts: Just follow the law. In advance of Thursday’s release of the latest census data, the conservative policy organization has put out a 10-point primer on Wisconsin redistricting law.
“These are the requirements and objective criteria for redistricting as laid out by federal and state constitutions and statute, and by court cases here in Wisconsin,” said CSW Executive Director Joe Handrick. Handrick is recognized as one of Wisconsin’s top redistricting experts.
Among those objective criteria are:
- Equal population
- Compliance with the Voting Rights Act
- Compactness and contiguity
- Core retention
- Minimizing municipal splits and preserving communities of interest
- Minimizing temporary disenfranchisement
CSW notes that nowhere in the constitution or statutes is there a reference to partisan political outcomes.
“The purpose of redistricting is to have districts that reflect the outcome of the US census, not the desired outcome of any one political party,” Handrick said. “For this reason, my advice is simple: Draw maps based on the objective criteria outlined in law and turn off your software’s partisan data features.”
Governor Evers has a chance to back up his rhetoric with actual action.
“The so-called People’s Maps Commission claims to be non-partisan – so I challenge them to draw their maps without use of partisan election data,” said Common Sense Wisconsin Policy Board Chair Bill McCoshen. “Use objective drawing criteria laid out in the law, ignore partisan considerations, draw their map, and then present it to the public. At that point, the political scientists can evaluate your map for partisan outcomes.”
Handrick noted that this is what an expert brought in by the People’s Maps Commission did earlier this year. Moon Duchin of Tufts University appeared before the Commission in May of this year and told the panel that she ran “hundreds of thousands” of computer simulations in which Wisconsin congressional districts were drawn following the “basic rules and precepts” but without taking partisan interests into account.
“This is precisely what any truly non-partisan group ought to do,” Handrick said. Handrick said he would give this advice to anyone drawing maps – including the Legislature. “Turn off the partisan data, start in one corner, draw square districts, even out the population of the districts, follow the Voting Rights Act, avoid splitting municipalities, and see what you get.”
10 Legal Principles for Wisconsin Redistricting
Blueprint for a Constitutional Map
- The Legislature draws new maps – The Wisconsin Constitution says the Legislature must draw new districts and must do so based on the latest US Census1.
- New districts must be relatively equal in population – The United States Constitution places equal population at the center of redistricting2. Grossly unequal population between districts can be evidence of a gerrymander.
- The United States Voting Rights Act (VRA) and Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution must be followed – There can be no retrogression in minority electoral opportunities. If they can be drawn without violating other redistricting criteria, districts with a geographically compact majority-minority population must be created3. When creating districts under the VRA, race cannot be the predominant factor considered4.
- Districts must be compact and contiguous5 – As the Supreme Court said in Shaw v Reno, redistricting is one area in which appearances do matter. Lack of compactness can be evidence of a gerrymander6. Note: Some municipalities in Wisconsin contain island territory. Such islands have been permitted by the federal courts in order to keep municipalities whole
- Core retention is important – Retaining the core of existing districts is a neutral redistricting criterion7. The federal court in 2002 rejected the Democrat’s map partly because it performed poorly on core retention8. Low core retention (grossly deviating from the existing districts with which voters are accustomed) can be evidence of gerrymandering.
- Minimize municipal splits – While population equality is paramount, it should be achieved with a minimal number of towns, villages, and cities being split. Prior courts have taken this into account and balanced this criterion with the need for equal population9. Excessive splitting can be evidence of a gerrymander.
- Preserve communities of interest – This criterion is related to municipal splits, but it can also apply to populations within a municipality and to communities of interest that extend over multiple municipalities10.
- Minimize temporary disenfranchisement – If a voter is moved from an even to and odd-numbered senate district, that voter will go 6 years without opportunity to vote for a state senator. In the process of evening out population disparities, some temporary disenfranchisement will occur. A significant amount can be evidence of gerrymandering, however. The federal court in 2002 rejected the Democrat map partly for this reason8.
- Preserve the proper number of seats – There must be 33 state senate districts and 99 state assembly districts, and three assembly districts must be nested within each senate district11.
- Senate districts shall be staggered – Odd-numbered senate districts are to be filled in 202212.
1 Article 4, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution
2 Article 1, Section II and the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution
3 Section II of the United States Voting Rights Act
4 14th Amendment (Equal Protection Clause) to the US Constitution
5 Article 4, Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution
6 Shaw v Reno; Bush v Vera
7 Abrams v Johnson
8 Baumgart v Wendelberger
9 Prosser v Elections Board
10 Baldus v GAB
11 4.001 Wisconsin Statutes
12 Article 4, Section 5 of the Wisconsin Constitution