(The Center Square) – Wisconsin lawmakers were told Monday that they're most likely going to get sued over the state’s new political map. The question for the legislators was, what might a lawsuit focus on?
The Senate’s Committee on Government Operations on Monday listened to testimony about the first redistricting proposal of 2021. The legislation (Senate Bill 385) would delay redistricting until new census numbers arrive. That means the first election under the new maps would come in 2023, instead of next year.
"I'd rather not be here, I'd rather not be doing this,” Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, said Monday. “But we're dealing with a situation that was foisted upon us."
Census numbers were supposed to be delivered to Wisconsin and the other states by March of this year. That didn’t happen. The best estimate from the Biden administration is that those numbers will arrive in August, although it's unclear if the government will make that deadline.
The plan before lawmakers on Monday pushes back the start of redistricting in Wisconsin until February of next year. Under the plan, counties would have until Feb. 22, 2022, to adopt their maps. Cities, towns, and villages in the state would then have until May 15, 2022, to draw their maps.
That means the first elections under the new maps would either be in 2023 or 2024.
Democrats and liberal groups don’t like the delay. They want to redraw the maps to reflect changes in Wisconsin’s population, particularly in fast-growing Dane County where Democrats are gaining power.
“From an administrative point of view, it’s important that cities and counties draw the wards because they understand the communities of interest, they understand where growth is likely to happen,” Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell told lawmakers.
He also made a plea to not split cities or towns, saying that dilutes votes.
Matt Rothschild with the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign warned lawmakers that delaying the beginning of redistricting until next year all but guarantees a lawsuit.
“This is a full employment bill for lawyers," Rothschild said Monday. “Any lawyer worth his/her salt who’s got a plaintiff living in an overcrowded district whose voice has now been diluted because of the increase of population in that district will have easy access to the courts. And, I think, a winning case.”
Andy Phillips with the Wisconsin Counties Association said there are likely to be a number of lawsuits filed over the state’s new political map. He’s not sure a lawsuit over a delay in drawing the new map would be the worst case for the state.
“I am a lawyer, I see lawsuits all the time about all sorts of different things,” Phillips said. “I’m not going to tell you that we are not going to get sued. But I will tell you that I see far greater problems if we rush through the process or interrupt all of the other deadlines associated with the spring 2022 election.”
Phillips said local leaders are asking for the delay because they want to get the new maps right.
“What you have before you is the least-worst solution to a really bad problem,” Phillips added.