Democrats in the state legislature have been quick to criticize Legislative and Congressional redistricting plans from majority Republicans, but one observer says opponents face a difficult battle if they try to stop the proposal.
The last three times new district maps were drawn in Wisconsin, it was after legislative gridlock resulted in the courts taking action because Democrats and Republicans shared control and could not reach an agreement. For the first time in 50 years though, Republicans control the redistricting process completely.
In most legal challenges to redistricting, UW-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin says the courts focus on two primary factors when determining maps; whether districts are equally divided among the state’s population and if minorities have proper representation. So far, he says the GOP-drawn maps appear to meet those conditions.
The other factor that is sometimes argued is what’s known as “community of interest.” The term refers to keeping communities with shared concerns within districts or avoiding splitting up municipalities when possible. Franklin says that argument has been very difficult for courts to define and could prove even harder for opponents of the Republican maps to argue.
Franklin says the one unknown in this process is a provision in the redistricting proposal that addresses current laws on what order the maps must be drawn. Currently, counties and municipalities are supposed to draw their maps first, before the state and Congressional districts are drawn. Most communities have not finished that work yet, resulting in language in the bill that would allow the legislature to move ahead without it being complete.
Franklin says it’s clear Republicans are trying to move ahead with the plan as quickly as possible because of concerns they could lose control of the state Senate after recall elections are complete in August. Republicans have six members of the chamber facing recall in those races.
Overall, Franklin says the new maps may not be “fair” in the eyes of Democrats, but such a reaction is to be expected when they are in the minority. He says a similar situation could be expected if the roles were reversed.
Lawmakers are expected to hold a public hearing on the redistricting package later today at the state Capitol.